One of the essential ingredients when writing posts based solely on personal anecdotes is that you really must have personal anecdotes in order to write. That’s not me – not now. It turns out that spending 1/3 of your year inside your home with very limited human contact means you just aren’t out generating the anecdotal content. Who knew? As I contemplate this post, I flip through my mental Rolodex of story topics, and all I find are: “Shows I’ve Marathoned” “Top Ten Naps”and “Things that Were Assembled/Destroyed” (which is arguably the best of the options, but still not that great). There’s a slightly more fun group of stories that fall under “Things I Can’t Share.” (Who knew that would ever be a thing?) Unfortunately, as you probably guessed, it turns out I can’t share those.
I genuinely feel guilty. While I don’t write a ton, I still feel I’m letting some people down. Ok, maybe it’s just that one guy, but hey, he’s important! Don’t knock “one guy” or his questionable taste! To each his own. Worry about yourself!
I withdrew from Facebook for a couple of months; it was amazing – possibly the best gift I could give myself in this particular moment in history. I could throw a lot of words at you as to “why,” but it really came down to “I needed a break.” I needed a break from my daily “liking, loving, caring, OMG-ing, sad face” chores, which were both mind-numbing and exhausting. I needed a break from everyone being so angry – a break from sitting in my entitled little echo-chamber where none of us are even pretending to entertain anyone else’s points of view. We’re just mad.
I needed a break from feeling that real change isn’t brought about by posting and re-posting and re-posting other people’s words or through catchy memes or viral videos. Real change doesn’t come from framing my profile picture with a “popular in the moment” slogan. That’s “easy.” That’s the path of least resistance. Right now “easy” isn’t enough. We need to do. But it’s really hard to “do” when “doing” puts our lives at risk. It puts our elderly, and medically fragile family member’s lives at risk, and that frustrates me beyond measure – and I just couldn’t walk that path in that echo chamber with my friends and family, beating my head against the same invisible walls over and over again while feeling helpless and a bit inept.
I needed a break from feeling like I was in some “woke-off” with my peers.
So, I quit, and then I wrote a letter to a former president imploring him for guidance, like you do when you’re feeling low, and I’m sure it’s sitting at the bottom of a mountain of other messages, but a girl can dream.
I cried, but the act of writing him was cathartic.
When I came back to Facebook several cheered. I’m liked for my “likes” – not because I was a sorely missed or even needed voice, and that’s ok. My posts offer no wisdom. They’re quite vapid and inane, and that’s ok, too; it’s all I can give to that space.
So, in a nut-shell that’s where I’m at. I’m in the same place I was a month ago, and the month before that, and the month before that.
I miss my friends. I miss my family, but maybe not enough to add another Zoom or WebEx call to my day. I’m so sorry, guys! I yearn for the day I can do something with you, not try to walk you through how to look at the camera. My eyes are up here, people!!! Plus, to be honest those calls really drive home how apart we are, and for now there’s not a lot that can be done.
As for future posts…
I missed an opportunity to post during Mental Health Awareness Month. If there’s ever been a time that people needed to be reminded about available resources, it’s now. With the anniversary of Jay’s death occurring next week, I’ll try to get one up. I’m trying to weave together a few personal observances in relation to that, but so far I haven’t quite worked out what I want to say. Actually, that’s what this post started out as, but after a ton of virtual white out and eraser streaks you got some vague, “I guess Beth doesn’t really care for Facebook” post. Sorry about that. I mean, yes I don’t care for Facebook, but that wasn’t the post I started to write. It’s the post that emerged from my writing cocoon. I was really hoping for a butterfly.
In lieu of a butterfly, I’ll wend with a small taste of “Things That Were Assembled/Destroyed.” Huge thanks to these guys for helping me say goodbye to my dilapidated murder shed. Jim’s victory pose at the end is worth the 10 seconds of viewing.
I think all of us have that friend/family member who, in a social gathering (you remember those, right? The idea hearkens back to an innocent time where people would leave their homes and come together in groups greater than six – a time when we naively referred to our friends as “friends” instead of “vectors,” anyway…) Let me start again. …the friend/family member who, in a social gathering, would suddenly launch into the most random/odd/crazy rant you’d ever heard. The kind of rant you’d laugh about in the beginning thinking this is surely a joke – they’re riffing – and then you realized, “oh dear God, they’re actually serious,” and the laugh would slowly become more nervous. You were then left with a choice – try to gently cajole them out of the crazy (good luck you naive fool!), or smile politely and claim you needed a refill… from another room… possibly outdoors… at a neighbors.
Among my friends and their acquaintances, we’ve got the guy who will get in your face over Brian Henson voicing Kermit the Frog, because it’s just wrong – they should have retired the character (or something like that). He’ll angrily get up in your face about it. Forget we’re all well past the age where we’re watching Sesame Street lately, and the last Muppet movie we saw was likely “The Muppet Movie.” Oh, Kermy. This guy takes the voice acting very seriously, and he’s pretty angry.
(For the record it turns out, after a quick Google search, that Jim Henson’s replacement for that voice was actually Steve Whitmire, who voices Kermit for 27 years after Henson and was fired by Disney around 2017. I just read too much about the incident that lead up to his dismissal. These are things I wish I didn’t know today; I actually don’t have a frog in this pond battle.)
Another friend-of-a-friend has strong feelings about Jupiter’s size. Why? Why does it have to be that big? (Again, they’re very serious.) I’ve heard that when it starts, it can be incredibly funny, but I’ve also been strongly discouraged from pursuing the conversation on my own. I get the impression the Jupiter conversation can take a dark turn. (Aside, I’d still like to hear it.)
I was thinking about this, and thinking, “wow, Beth, you really lack passion.” I mean sure, I’m passionate about our political situation. I can sound quite passionate if people are driving in a “non-Beth-approved” way and therefore causing me undue stress as I move from point A to point B (like interrupting my commanding car performance of Queen’s “I Want to Break Free”. Don’t make me stop singing to scream at you. I will!) And as I was sitting on my high-horse feeling quite above it all in the crazy, it hit me – my things. (Epiphanies tend to fly right at you when you’ve had little real human contact for two months.) So, here we go –
In a questionable top five list I found while Googling “things that agree with my world view” I discovered that hippos are one of the Top 5 killers of humans. (Full disclosure: the list probably excluded things like: disease, other people etc., etc. but that’s not what’s important.) What’s important is that hippos are a murderous menace! And if you eliminate many things, they’re among the top five animal murderers (behind mosquitoes, tsetse flies, snakes and crocodiles (we’re ignoring the part that included dogs)).
I blame Disney and the Animaniacs for my overreaction.
My entire life I’ve viewed hippos as these adorably chubby Kilroys who had thoughtful hippo conversations, yearned to don a tutu, and paddled around rivers to help get 3,000+ lbs of weight off of those poor knees.
Imagine my horror when I discovered they were multi-ton jerks with murderous intentions? But we don’t get weekly news updates on Hippo homicides. Let one shark nibble on one surfer, and suddenly everyone’s afraid to go into the water. The next thing you know, Roy Scheider is out on a boat hunting them down over four increasingly ridiculous movies.
You know Flavio and Marita had a secret basement where they kept their humans – trying to create perfect human suits. Where are you keeping the bodies, Flavio and Marita?!?! WHERE?!?!
Hippos kill upwards of 500 people per year. Where’s my hippo week?!?!
And really, that’s what it boils down to – I want Hippo Week on Discovery. Is that too much to ask? Hippos are way better at murder than sharks! AND they sing and dance. Fact.
Now to my second crazy rant (it’s a two-fer) we’re going to have to take a hard left since it doesn’t involve the Martha Graham’s of the African river systems.
No, this is about soap, particularly dish soap, and my lack of access to it.
Let’s start with a fact: For the last 30+ years I’ve been washing dishes by hand; I don’t use a dishwasher. I just don’t. I like to mindlessly stand in front of a sink, thinking about things, and washing my dishes. It’s calming. It’s my thing.
Enter Covid-19 and suddenly everyone has discovered dish soap to the extent that I can’t get mine, and I have a strong preference. Any old soap won’t do. I like Dawn. Any Dawn, but mostly the green Dawn. Maybe it’s the smell, who knows. It’s Dawn. It’s green. It’s good. I don’t like Joy. I don’t like Palmolive. I don’t like the off-brand at the grocery store, or Meyer’s. I like Dawn. If I can’t have the green stuff, the blue still is perfectly fine. You see, Dawn does EXACTLY what I want it to do, the way I want it to do it. It cleans dishes, and it gets grease out of the way, just like the commercials tell me it does. But apparently everyone is suddenly interested in washing dishes now??!?! Really???
No. I suspect it has to do with people having limited access to hand soap, so they’re buying dish soap in order to clean their hands. And I applaud you guys for suddenly showing an interest in hygiene, but my question is – why weren’t you doing that before? Seriously. Why?
When we were being sent home to shelter-in-place, and I went to the grocery store, I didn’t buy soap, because I had soap. The shelves were stripped clean of soap, but I didn’t mind. I had extra soap for when I ran out. In fact, I haven’t had to buy new hand soap, yet. I’ve just worked my way through my soap reserves. And I get that some of you didn’t have soap, people run out, it’s a thing, but the fact that there’s still a soap shortage is crazy to me. Again, thank you for discovering how filthy hands can be, but dang… I now kind of see you guys as contributing to the problem to begin with. Why weren’t you washing your hands before? You’re gross.
Look, I don’t care if you have to buy some lye and coconut oil, please let me have my Dawn – a product I use for actual dishes – not something I use because I recently discovered clean hands were in. Thank you social media influencers for finally doing something I wouldn’t categorize as vapid noise, and also, GRR! I want my Dawn!
(Health warning: Please do not actually buy lye unless you know how to handle it properly. It’s a very strong alkali and therefore caustic. Also, I feel I should add: Also, please do not inject or ingest bleach. Bleach is typically made with chlorine, which is also an alkali and generally doesn’t go well with one’s digestive system in that you could die. That’s all the near-science lessons I have in me today.)
So there they are – the two things I’m excitable about these days. The perils of hippo interactions and my lack of Dawn in my house, by non-dishwashers who won’t kindly just use lye (again, please don’t do that).
Since early January I’ve been meaning to write a post about personal journeys and my own personal journey as I face all of the anniversaries related to Jay and our life together. For me, Spring kicks off a lengthy emotional roller coaster ride that pulls off some upside down loops as it careens through Summer, and then finally ends with one final, breath-taking plunge in the Fall. Early this year I stumbled across a “poem” (only in quotes, because it just doesn’t feel a poem – even e.e. cummings would agree, I’m certain) that I felt would express my feeling quite well – a way to show, through analogy, where I am on my journey. Then Covid-19 swept across the US, and we find ourselves struggling as a nation – physically, emotionally, financially – enduring unforeseen hardships while receiving daily emails from businesses who are just letting us know “they’re there for us” “#InThisTogether,” oh and, “please buy our things because look at how sincere our mass email was.” Meanwhile, people are losing jobs, wondering how to feed themselves and their families, wondering how they’ll afford rent, afford their insurance. Maybe that email hinted at temporary rent/loan forgiveness? Maybe it had information on where to get a meal? A job lead? Many folks are in the middle of their own mental health crisis with no way to get to, much less afford, a counselor. Many are stuck in a home with their abusive relative and no friends, family or teachers to see the signs or raise the flags to intervene. And all of this is occurring while we debate whether we’re ok with saying good-bye to the most vulnerable in our population – our elderly, our neighbors/co-workers/family members with compromised immune systems, healthy people who have overactive immune systems, people with diabetes, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Is it me, or did we lose sight of the fact that we were flattening the curve to avoid overwhelming health care facilities? If we say goodbye to Mee-maw, because dang she’s old, and Cousin Ben, who is on the Humera to help with that pesky arthritis (Lord only knows they weren’t contributing anything worthwhile to this world that will be missed – always thought of them as societal burdens), are we just hoping they’ll kindly toddle their way over to a mass grave to avoid the hospitals? Will that stimulate the economy? I suppose funeral homes will see an uptick.
So you see, writing that post the way I originally planned seemed rather self-centered – it just didn’t sit well; it felt gross. And the truth is, I don’t feel sad – at least not in that way.
So, let’s start with that “poem”
Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease.
It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
We were all in the middle of our own journeys – some of us were headed to Italy – excited to live our lives, travel around, take photos, and enjoy our adventures. Others were headed to Holland, throwing out our Italian guide books, trying to accept (cope) with the fact that we’d never have those staged photos of us hamming it up, pretending to hold up the leaning Tower of Pisa. We were the ones hoping we’d figure out how to make the very best of a maybe not so terrible situation. Well, we travelers to Italy and Holland just had a layover. We’re stuck in some overly-congested airport that we don’t want to be in, but ultimately we’ll re-board our planes soon enough, despite all of the inconveniences. But before we re-board, please remember there are a huge number of travelers whose luggage was lost and find themselves dumped in any number of third-world countries – strangers in a strange land – forget fun travel guides, forget selfies of toes on beaches – that’s not even a consideration. These travelers don’t know how they’re going to eat, how they’re going to find shelter, or find work, and many are in immediate danger. This trip isn’t a mere inconvenience; it’s a waking nightmare – a nightmare $1200 and unemployment isn’t going to fix (though, it’s not nothin’).
So with that said, please consider supporting your local organizations that have a mission to help the most vulnerable and help our front-line workers. Also, consider shopping at local shops/restaurants, many of whom are doing their best to keep their doors open and may offer curbside/delivery options.
If you’re in Central Texas, please consider volunteering (if able) or making a donation to the Central Texas Food Bank. Right now, the food insecurity rate in Travis County is 17.1% (the US average is 15.4%) according to data from the Feeding America Map. This will grow as unemployment increases.
As always, check in on your family, friends, and loved ones, and remember to be kind. People are working hard and are overwhelmed. If you’re out in the wild, and you’re frustrated, take a breath and remember a lot of people are putting their lives in danger so you can have access to food and other critical services. These are the people who are keeping our infrastructure running, so be a little more patient.
For those of you who’ve followed the Big Blue Mess since the beginning (you loyal two), you know/understand/recognize that my posts are merely letters. This is how I write. This is how I speak. And you’ve been around long enough that you are very familiar with this particular origin story – the tale of blame and of how two readers blossomed to 10 over a couple of decades. I’m truly an internet sensation! A voice for the ages! (And I promise you now that when we reach a dozen readers, we’ll do something big!!) Anyway, back to this letter before I completely surrender to this dozen reader pipe dream of mine.
I’m writing today, not because I have a story, but because I don’t. I don’t have some whimsical anecdote to share. I don’t have an interesting perspective or insight on the things happening around us. I just feel like checking-in. I feel like getting back to this blog’s roots – sending you a letter.
Anyway… let’s do this thing.
Hey, <this is the part where you picture your name right here – I’m talking to you>!
How are you?
You’ve probably noticed that there’s a lot going on (unless you live under a rock with a decent WiFi connection). We’re now more aware of how connected we all are – on a global scale, and it’s scary. I personally had only heard of Wuhan in recent years. Before then, it was never on my geographic radar, and now, now I can bring up “Wuhan” and have a roomful of people nod solemnly. Just an aside, I always thought it was further north than it is, but maps… am I right? I also thought it was smaller. My reasoning was: I’ve never heard of it, it’s not Singapore or Hong Kong; therefore, it must be small. My philosophy professor and math teachers would be so proud at how I apply logic. Anyway, never heard of it? It must be small. Eleven million people – I mean, does that even rate as even a town? Perhaps, it’s more a hamlet? Do we have “hamlets” anymore? We really need to bring back the hamlet!! Who’s with me? Grab the pitchfork, Bertha, we’re going to march on the square!
We’re now connected in ways that cause fist fights over toilet paper in grocery stores (did you see that video of the women fighting in Australia?? Also, a note to the friend of mine who just bought 100 rolls for two people and claimed it was a normal amount. Less fiber. Maybe a lot more cheese? I don’t mean to judge, but I don’t mind). And we’re also connected in ways where doctors and nurses around the globe are working tirelessly, sometimes in very stressful conditions with limited resources to get us back on track.
I’m reminded of a movie that came out in the early 90’s – an arguably great movie that didn’t get a ton of attention called The Power of One. (At least my memory tells me it was great. Of course, my memory once falsely told me Ladyhawke was fantastic – oh memory, you treacherous beast, how you sucker-punched me on that one.) Anyway, the story was empowering and its message was simple – all it takes is one person to make a profound difference. And right now, we’re reminded of that constantly – how one person, thousands of miles away, can make choices that impact thousands upon thousands of lives. How a doctor’s warnings can not only be dismissed, but that he could be ordered to stop and look where we are. I can spin this out as proof that one person, making one decision can quickly branch into a thousand poor decisions, and then I can reel that all back in and say, “and this is how one person choosing to stay inside has the power to influence the course of things in a positive way. I could end the thought by reemphasizing “the power of one” and throw up the graphic on a flattened curve. I don’t think you need me to do that. It’s preachy and a bit gross, and I’m not in a particularly preachy and gross mood at the moment.
Anyway, back to you. How are you? How are you fairing in this big, scary, uncertain world?
How am I? I’m fine. Nothing to really report. I wish Jay were here. He’d actually love that we were compelled to stay in, and we’d doubtlessly be mid some TV marathon where I’d end up crying uncle and saying, “ok, I can’t watch any more TV,” which would earn me a confused look. However, Jay’s not here, but hey, I have a cat. That’s cool. Cats are very loving.
I’m actually going to rant a bit. It’s my letter. It’s my one-sided conversation, so here we go. Let me preface by saying, I’ve spent too much time on social media, and it’s taking a toll. Anyway, here’s the rant: I’m tired of every time a person complains or expresses frustration over what is happening to them personally on social media, another person feels compelled to jump in and remind them that someone has it worse than they do. They clearly need perspective!! It’s true – it’s life – someone always has it worse – much, much worse, and someone always has it better – much, much better, but it does not negate the way a person feels. If a person feels trapped or isolated in their own home or community, it’s a real feeling. They likely know that they’re lucky to have a home to feel trapped in, or that they don’t have to worry about their financial situation. Posting it in bold fonts against colorful backgrounds makes me feel that the poster needs praise for being super socially aware. I mean, do whatever makes you feel awesome – you do you – just be aware there are no actual awards for “The Most Socially Aware.” There’s no such thing as a “Most Pandemically Woke” badge in adult scouts. Unless there is, and then my bad. I had no idea. Let me know what you need to complete your badge; I’m there for you. Also, how do I join adult scouts? Is there camping and margaritas in adult scouts? Also, on this random train that is careening to the “who knows where” next stop – you can get “to go” margaritas from Taco Cabana. Who knew?? It’s a Pandemic Miracle! Sorry, back to your regularly scheduled letter.
The thing is that it’s really ok for people to yearn to be at a concert, or at a movie, or walking to get tea with co-workers in the morning. It’s ok that they miss the human connection. By the same token, it’s ok that you need public praise for being the outspoken gatekeeper over people’s reactions to long-term confinement. You go, you Sentinel of Self-Righteousness. (I’m also aware of this small hypocrisy. Eh, it’s my letter. You write your own letter.) Them having the desire to be with other people doesn’t mean that they don’t get that people have lost jobs, that the economy is extremely strained, that some businesses may not reopen, that thousands are jobless. It doesn’t mean they’re unaware that there are people who do not have access to shelter, to food, to clean water, to a safe environment/haven. It doesn’t mean that they’re unaware that people are making tremendous sacrifices every single day, nor are they unaware that people are dying by the hundreds and thousands. That’s not what they’re saying. To be blunt and a bit crass: Them having a purely self-focused moment and expressing a desire of, “I want to go to the gym” is ok and doesn’t need you to hop in to remind them essentially, “stop your whining, people are dying.” Because people die EVERY SINGLE DAY in horrible, deplorable, and arguably unnecessary/preventable ways, and the only reason you’re excited about it in this instance, you largely disconnected, self-righteous asshat, is because you’ve been told to sit in your house for a few weeks and it’s directly impacting you. Don’t try to take the moral high ground when someone says, “I miss hanging out with my friends.” They can miss them. It’s ok. When this is all over, please feel free to take that same passion and volunteer or support organizations that help the most vulnerable, the most medically fragile – take a look at what is going on globally, and use your energy to make a difference – to fight intolerance, injustice, and make the world a better place. The power of one. Start a movement. Go crazy. Ease up on people saying they miss things or they feel stir-crazy.
I’m tired of infographics that prove the point that I need to be inside. When that graphic starts trending down, I’ll be delighted to look at them again. But after weeks of this – as we’ve moved from denial, to anger, to acceptance – combined with strongly worded messages of “see, stay inside” it genuinely makes me want to fire back with a, “YOU stay inside,” which is ridiculous and childish, but I’ve been locked up for a couple of weeks with very little human interaction, sooo…. Also, social media sites are largely echo chambers – people who think in similar ways to you – so yeah, they’ve seen/shared those graphs, they know to stay inside. Seeing multiple posts each day demanding that everyone “stay inside, people have it worse, look at this graphic showing people are dying and it’s quickly spreading to a community near you” doesn’t help. I get it. They get it. Turns out we have a basic education and access to news outlets.
All of that to say. I desperately need to disconnect from social media since it’s spinning me up like this. Although, it does still surprise and delight me, too. From people singing from their windows in Italy, to impromptu concerts from a balcony in Barcelona, and finally to a father and daughter team lip-syncing and dancing. Plus, you guys, there’s this amazing epic battle unfolding on my neighborhood’s Facebook group; it been pretty great for a while. How can I miss out on moments like those?
I recently saw a post where there was a challenge to do something creative. A brilliant idea! Unfortunately, I couldn’t get traction on my ideas, so well… I can blog? This made me wish there was someone in the house to do things with or not do things with – that there were choices. However, this does not make me wish for a phone call. I’m telling you, telemarketing really made me despise being on the phone for any reason, which is amazing, since in my day (high school), I was known for talking on the phone for eight hours straight. My Dad would bring me lunch and set it down on the floor next to me while I chattered away. Although, phone hate aside. I did have a great 2-3 hour conversation with a friend the other day which really cheered me up because it was such a normal conversation.
Y’know, this may be a terrible time to have a blog that solely relies on anecdotes. Story-wise, right now, I’m limited to:
Evil neighbor had on a face mask while watering the yard. Covid-19 is in the yard!! Ok, she may also have allergies, but in 13 years I’ve never seen her in a face mask in the yard, and allergens in our area have not seen a dramatic increase in the last month.
The other day, my cat softly pressed his forehead against mine after I ended a two-hour, unproductive help desk call and had typed “I have a gigantic headache” into the office IM. It was very sweet to have a floofy kitty head pressed against a less floofy human head.
A friend loaned me their rowing machine and asked if I knew how to use it, then insisted I demonstrate. I admit I was gobsmacked? bemused? I really thought I’d gone for a long stretch where I said,”rowing is my thing” every other sentence. Typical conversations: “Hey Beth, how was your weekend?” “I LIKE ROWING!!!!” “ohhh kayyyy… did you see any movies? Meet up with any friends?” “I LIKE ROWING A LOT!!!” “…” Apparently me responding to their request with, “I actually use this model at the gym. I have rowed a half marathon; it took nearly two hours. I can row for two hours” was not sufficiently convincing that I actually knew how to row. Thankfully, when compelled to demonstrate, I got my time down to 1:57/500m in three strokes. Thankfully part two, I got to stop there; I would have cratered quickly from there had they insisted on more proof. Although, I do have faith that my ego would have pushed me harder than usual.
I guess to wrap it all up, if there is a way to wrap it all up. Right now, I want to read, write, watch a good movie, paint, put together a puzzle, plan a party (June 6th, y’all). I want to go to the grocery store and shop full shelves at 6:30 am with the 10 other shoppers like we do on a weekend. I want to think of people as “people” and not “vectors.” I want a hug – a good hug. And I also want to disconnect from the news, turn off all the lights, sit in the darkness, play music and pull a blanket over my head. Although right now, at this very moment, I would kill to swim. And much less social media, as it’s currently, clearly irking me.
Also, I know this was a bit of a ranty post – blame the isolation, but I do want to take a moment and thank all of the essential workers, the men and women who are out there every single day putting themselves at risk to ensure people get the care they need (mentally and physically), who ensure we have access to our critical infrastructure needs. Thank you to our food workers, our delivery people, the grocery store staff, the gas station attendants, our truck drivers who deliver goods across the nation, to the city workers who make sure we have lights, water, gas, and electricity. You make a difference every single day – you are the unsung heroes who make it so that sometimes all we have to worry about is whether we have enough toilet paper.
I’ve been at a complete loss when it comes to ideas for posts recently, and I finally reached out to a good friend. “What should I write about?” She immediately came back with, “dating in your 50’s.” While I have a ton to say on the matter in personal emails or over a margarita, I’ve been mulling over how to throw my ideas out for general consumption and make them somewhat amusing (or at the very least amuse myself and her, which is really the goal at this point). I’m still drawing a huge blank, so I’m just going to hop in.
Dating SucksWhen You’re 50
Ok, that’s a gross generalization; however, now you’re 50, you’re back on the market and well, dating can actually suck. And it makes you yearn for a more innocent time – when things were simpler or seemingly rosier. A time when you were a little girl filled with so much hope about your future. You had innocent dreams of what life would be as a grown-up. It was a world where she had a perfect family, perfect kids, perfect pets who never shed and self-walked. She had a fabulous job. She traveled the world. She lived in a Victorian mansion, a brownstone or a super sleek downtown loft. (Mine had a two to three story library with a rolling ladder and also a domed solarium.) She knew without any doubt that you would have it together – you would light the world on fire. She never imagined the grey hair (ON YOUR CHIN), boobs having succumbed to gravity, flappy mee-maw arms and those unforgiving wide hips. She couldn’t picture a world where she’d find herself casually scrolling through a dating app (ok, mostly because the internet wasn’t really a thing and had anyone mentioned “Arpanet,” she’d feel confident they were referring to a firm hold hairspray) trying to find a special someone like you pick out groceries and that her criteria (aka new low bar) would ever be “doesn’t make her throw-up in her mouth.” (Easier said than done.)
Now if you actually were the rare soul who did imagine this bleaker future you, you were a very strange and sad kid. I’m just going to call it right now. I’m full-on judging you. Oh, but props for imagining the internet. I hope you used your vision to your advantage.
You realize past you would go slack-jawed if she were brought forward to meet present you.
To make matters worse, the prospect of dating in your 50’s heralds the return of every insecurity you thought you’d outgrown before life took a gigantic dump on your lawn. You’re supposed to be settled by now. WTF? You begin doubting your appeal. Am I likable? funny? intelligent? interesting? appealing? Did I dress ok? Do I have to dress differently? Should I avoid certain topics? What if I say something ridiculous? Dribble? It crosses your mind that you’re too old to be revisiting this craziness. But that insidious self-doubt monster, who appeared mid-puberty, gently taps you on the shoulder and with a smirk says, “Hey girl! Just letting you know I’m still here keeping your ego in check. Oh yeah, in case I forget to remind you daily, you’re still an idiot. Now go on, talk to that nice man. You got this! In that outfit, how could you not succeed? <snort>”
To compound the issue and remind you how NOT in your 20’s you are: in your 50’s, everyone you know is married and all of their friends are married, so the likelihood that they’ll actually introduce you to someone suitable for dating is slim at best. Every group you join? It’s filled with married people leading married lives. Every event you attend, it’s filled with more couples. Every man that you find appealing is also married. Of course, you then reach a point where you see everyone being married as a good thing, because you understand that man is actually someone else’s problem. For example, let’s talk about my ongoing crush on the office drunk. He’s pretty as heck, love his voice, and as I mentioned, he’s also an alcoholic (not in a funny way). This is ok, because like I said, this is not a Beth problem – it’s a “his family” problem and I can admire from afar without feeling the need to rescue this person.
That brings me to the reality of actually dating someone.
Jay and I were together for about 17 years. During that time, we learned how to live together. We learned how to cohabitate peacefully. The mere idea of having someone in my house makes me twitch. I came to this realization after Jay passed away and a friend suggested I rent out one of my bedrooms. My response was, “can I put a clause in the contract that states the tenant must stay in their room whenever I’m in the house? That they can’t be in the living room? Can’t use my refrigerator? Can’t make noise?” I wasn’t kidding. As I’ve gotten older, and further away from my college and post-college years where I had many roommates, I recognize I’m kind of set in my ways. I’m persnickety.
That hints at something very important – that by 50 we have a steamer trunk filled with personal baggage. We’re no longer that carefree 20-something whose baggage looks like an adorable overnight bag filled with cuteness and maybe a smidge of some high school drama. No, by 50 you actually need a bellhop with a luggage cart because if you’re single in your 50’s there’s a story, and there’s baggage. I’m not saying it’s all bad, but life has likely had its way with you.
Then why date?
For me, I hold onto hope, because there’s so much that I miss by not being in a relationship. I miss hearing someone say I look beautiful – whether I’m going out or tying my hair up in a loose ponytail. I miss having a person who stays with me until I fall asleep, which Jay did for 17 years. I miss having someone who genuinely cares where I am each day. I miss being around someone who genuinely likes me and thinks I’m funny and interesting – a person whom I think is funny and interesting right back. I miss hugs – real hugs – the kind that draw you in close and fully envelop you. I miss shared experiences – being there for our best and worst days and pushing each other to be our best. I miss being loved.
And if I’m completely honest, I also fear dying alone – tucked away in a nursing home that wreaks of urine where no one really knows or cares that I’m there – that I exist.
So, off I go to those dating apps where I swipe left more often than not. In truth, one site tells me “you have 9 unread messages, and if you give us money again, we’ll let you read them.” I think about this – about paying – about reading these messages and believing it holds a message from “the one,” and then I find something else to do. Maybe one day I’ll go look at them. One day I’ll decide that dating isn’t a dumpster fire.
And I suppose that little girl, well she’s still there dancing, singing, spinning, and impossibly hopeful.
This past year I joined a Facebook group for spouses/partners who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. While I have this incredibly supportive network of family and friends who are always there for me, our loss is different. They lost a beloved son, a son-in-law, a brother, an uncle, or a friend. In a lot of cases, Jay was someone whom they’d known most of his life if not all, or for some, they’d known him all of theirs. Whereas, I lost a husband – my best friend, my favorite person, my raison d’ê·tre. And while the losses are equally tragic, they’re also very different. I have never lost a child or a brother or a good friend to suicide. They have never lost a husband to suicide.
In this group I’ve found a comfortable space where every member has experienced a similar tragedy. Just reading their words or posting mine has helped me put my grief in perspective and it has helped me realize that the ways I feel and think aren’t particularly uncommon – that I’m not alone in the thoughts/feelings that I have. It’s a safe place where I can share my best and worst thoughts, where I can celebrate what was but still show how deeply my scars run. It’s a place where I don’t have to lay out a backstory or offer-up a lot of explanation – a place where the members just get “it”. They inspire me. They break my heart. They laugh, cry, and share their stories – the good and the bad. It’s a group no one wants to belong to and one we’re glad exists.
Occasionally a member will post a photo of a meaningful momento – something they keep close to remind them of their loved one, and that’s what inspired my post today. (This is the post I mentioned I was struggling with over the past couple of weeks. I couldn’t figure out how to sink my teeth into what I wanted to say. So, here we go!)
Before Christmas, one of the members shared a photo of a bracelet she wears. It’s fairly simple – a square on its end divided into quarters with two lines crossing it. In each quadrant is a letter – from left to right the letters represent one set of initials, from top to bottom represent the letters represent another person’s set of initials. Let me just show you, it’ll be easier:
When I saw it, I knew immediately I wanted one – truly a no-brainer.
I immediately went to the company’s website, and that’s where I read their description: “Who crossed your path and changed your life forever? Cross your initials with the initials of the person who set you in a new direction and stay connected wherever you may wander.” I paused. So many people have crossed my path and changed my life forever – more than Jay – people who had an equally strong hand in righting my course in this life (or at least made small, but significant course adjustments). I suddenly pictured dozens of bracelets running down my wrists, filled with their initials: JU, AA, AB, AG, DP, HB, JB, JH, JJ, JK, JS, KT…. (the list goes on). The imagined bracelets celebrated everyone who not only had an impact on the course my life has taken, but have greatly influenced the person I am today. People who believed in me. People who took chances on me, opened doors and presented me with new opportunities both personally and professionally. People who taught me my self-worth (hrmmm “…taught me…” makes it sound as though it’s in my past. I should change that to”…continue to try to teach me and get frustrated, slap their forehead, sigh, and maybe even cry a bit in regard to my seemingly hard-headedness in regard to…”) Most of my good friends, would tell you this is an area they’d greatly love to see me improve upon. Hey, I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t challenging. My job is to keep them busy and sighing. You’re welcome, friends!
Those people shaped the me that you have now. Without them, I wouldn’t be me. (Now you know who to blame. 🙂 )
Of course, wearing that many bracelets seemed a tiny bit ridiculous, so I looked at the company’s other offerings. There I discovered another type of bracelet – one which displays the latitude and longitude of the place you met someone. My first reaction was, “that’s ridiculous! I have no idea where I met my friends.” Then I thought about it, and realized that with rare exception I could actually pin-point the location of our meeting. From a particular room in a house to a desk in a classroom to an office or a meeting room. Not only did I know where I met them, I remember the moment – the formal introductions, the stolen glances across a living room, the picnic table on a Thanksgiving Day – all photos sitting in my memory I can easily leaf through – all with very specific locations. My imagined bracelets doubled and now gracefully hung from two wrists.
With some I remember there being this immediate connection – a moment when I just knew, “this person is part of my tribe.” Aside: one of my friends once went completely slack-jawed after she’d introduced me to her friend. In a matter of hours we had our arms around each other, giving each other huge hugs. Typically I’m not the hugest fan of strangers touching me – even some acquaintances, which this friend was quite aware of, but hey I’d found one of my people out in the wild, I had to hug them because I didn’t realize that, even though I didn’t know them before, I really missed them and needed that hug.
Of course, some of those first meetings didn’t go quite as well (definitely zero hugging). They were more of the, “I think I’m going to sucker punch this jerk and see if they’ll make fun squeaky ouch noises?” variety. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t, though I have since slugged almost all of them in the shoulder more than once. Hey, they can’t help being them, and I can’t help being me.
And there were those in the middle. People who were this constant presence in my life. People who didn’t elicit that visceral “OMG! I adore you!” or the “OMG! I cannot stand you!!” reaction. These people just appeared beside me, and we were simply friends.
And all of these friends, no matter how we met, would end up becoming essential to my story influencing so many aspects of my life from my thoughts, my tastes, and my tolerances.
Recently, an old friend made a fairly simple observation. I was in the process of making a choice, and then explaining the “why” behind that choice when they said, “you probably got that from me.” And I’m pretty sure they were right. Then I realized it wasn’t just that single thing I’d taken from them, or from others – I’ve taken so much more. In fact, the more I thought about it and the more I think about it, I recognize that not only did people cross my path, but I carry many of them with me every single day. It’s in the way I smile, my facial expressions that aren’t easily concealed, my wit, the way I write, the choices I make when I park, the music I enjoy, the way I laugh, the way I sneeze, or the way I speak when I’m expressing an idea emphatically. Their traits, their quirks, their habits have been added to my own and I’ve become this incredible mosaic of all the people who have touched my life.
After thinking about all of this, it was hard not to ask for those bracelets for my birthday. I was only held back by the uncertainty of how people would perceive me crossing their initials with mine and wearing them around. I imagined incredibly awkward conversations. “Ummm Beth, we’re not going steady.” While I looked completely surprised, “wait, we’re not???” So, I suppose I’m content to wear them in my head and on my heart, for now.
I’ll wrap everything up with this final piece.
I’m not sure how you feel about the TV show This is Us, but a recent bit of dialog really stuck with me (and it’s the theme for this season):
It’s so strange, isn’t it? How just like that a complete stranger can become such a big part of your story. It’s actually kind of terrifying, y’know? How a single cross with one person you’ve never met can change everything.
This is Us, Season 4, Episode 1 Strangers
I look forward to 2020, to a year which includes a new job, being on a board with new people, traveling to new cities and starting a new personal project. I know with absolute certainty that my path will cross with many people, and I look forward to that next person who becomes a significant part of my story, to that friendship, and seeing the new/unexpected (and hopefully welcome) directions we go – adding and changing the mosaic that is me.
I have another post in mind, but I find I’m a bit stuck as I churn over the “hows” of what I want to post. I’ve poked it, prodded it, written it a dozen different ways in my head, and now I’m going to let it marinate a bit then maybe have another go at it before year’s end (gads, that’s only three days away). In order to get out a post in December, my only real story option is to catch you up on the new things I’ve done in November and December. Of course, because I’ve settled down and started typing, all of them have fled my head – at least the November version. You’ll just have to trust that I did in fact do new things in November, and I’m certain I enjoyed them.
Let’s start with a big one: I got a new job that will start in January. I’m excited and anxious all at once. I could tell you all about the why’s and how’s, but well that would be breaking a promise I made to myself about writing about work on this blog. Those kind of stories can be a bit career-limiting. Plus, my former supervisor, and soon-to-be co-worker (who incidentally reads this blog and whom I can sass in a mere 9 days with, “You’re not the boss of me!!!”) doesn’t need his ego stroked more than usual. The fact we’re both leaving is its own statement, so I’ll leave that there.
I quit my swim class; I’ve never done that before! I mean, that probably doesn’t count as a new thing if we’re going to make new things only about happy/positive things. Ultimately, I wrestled with it, and decided my frustration over not progressing athletically was a decent reason. No one’s fault. Well, mine and my stupid brain and body for not cooperating in a manner and at a pace I’d prefer.
Quitting was quickly followed by: I advanced to the intro to lap class, and then announced that I was rejoining swimming. As you can see, I’ve lead quite the mercurial swim life. I’m currently learning how to do the butterfly stroke. Of course, that reminds me of a Trevor Noah bit making fun of swimming and the various strokes, which leads me to…
I saw Trevor Noah live, which I saw in November. (HAH! I knew I could remember at least one thing I’d done.) It was an absolutely fantastic show where he did a hilarious bit about swimming. Have I mentioned that? If you get a chance, I highly recommend reading his book, Born a Crime. I’m typically a fiction-only reader (and yeah, I get it – go ahead and get your “His book is fiction” cracks out of your system – go on), but this was fantastic. He talks about his family and growing-up in South Africa during Apartheid where he was quite literally born a crime. If you can, listen to it as an audio book where he narrates his own story. Also, as a favor to me, read a real review; mine isn’t doing the book any justice and you’re probably not as tempted to pick it up as you should be. I personally recommend the review from the NY Times. I think it might be good based on the preview I could see on Google. However, I couldn’t actually confirm it. Apparently, one of us (me) has read their three free NY Times online articles and now they want money. 😦 I will not surrender to you, NYT! Also, I’m kind of cheap!
I had brunch with my first boyfriend. It was a wonderful visit. He’s funny, smart, clever, and has been involved in some really incredible things (testifying before Congress among them) – gone on many a grand adventure/jaunt/wander – and to put it simply, he’s continued to be a neat person. I like to think of him as a true survivor of dramatic, demanding teen-girl me, which is truly medal-worthy. Sorry David, no medals have been minted yet, but I give a great “atta-boy” for surviving. ATTA BOY!
I went to the opening of a campaign office. In this case, I was there for Elizabeth Warren’s office opening here in town. A good friend of mine is a huge Warren supporter so I went as moral support (lots of supporting happening that day) and also, I suppose I went for the opportunity to punch him every time he pointed out that we were standing in Beto’s former offices.
I spent Christmas alone. This one probably isn’t making you think, “Yay!” Basically, I turned off my phone and avoided FB most of the day. You see, it’s also my birthday, and it was a choice I got to make as an adult. As we always say at work (former work): It is what it is. (I suppose other people say it, too but I’m giving my office all the credit since I heard it there first, and often – usually daily. Hrmm… a defeatest phrase the whole team took up at work, possibly another clue?) I’m pretty sure there was one wellness check in the form of my trainer who came by with her daughter that evening. I love her! Before day’s end, I brought everything back up online and returned greetings so my Mother would stop frowning down over my poor manners.
Seriously though, I sometimes don’t feel like being “Edie,” and that’s kind of who I feel I am right now. (Inside family thing. Just nod your head in understanding.) After having a brief chat with my suicide loss survivors gang (a group for those who have lost spouses/partners to suicide), we agreed that next year I should plan to take a trip away from here. I think I’m going to do that.
The day after Christmas, a friend scooped me up and we just finished spending the past few days around Aransas Bay as part of my 2019 Beth-venture. It was absolutely beautiful!
In sum, I’ve spent the year trying a lot of new things – some big, some small – things I wasn’t always sure I’d enjoy. I swam, I spent time in the mountains, I fed more stingrays, I met new/incredible people (the kind you’re immediately drawn to, because you recognize they’re your tribe). I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, and I’ve written a bit.
I look forward to 2020 and all of its adventures – its ups and downs – all the new things – all the times I get to be with you, laugh with you, cry with you, and be alive with you. I love you!
I leave you with this morning’s sunrise from my balcony where a dolphin was playing down below. May you all wake up to the simple wonder of gorgeous sunrises and playful dolphins.
Co-worker: Beth, did you plan a White Elephant Gift Exchange?
Beth: No, I didn’t. However, if you’d like to plan one feel free to do so!
Co-worker(actual quote from email): Couldn’t remember if we were doing it…maybe next year you can plan it 🙂
(The smiley face at the end is truly one of my favorite parts. It’s right behind “I couldn’t remember…” because, true story, we’ve actually never done one of these at our holiday parties. So, I’m confused. They couldn’t remember that we still aren’t doing it?) Moving on!
Let’s talk idea fairies. You know what I’m talking about. Those people (maybe you) who are life’s true visionaries. Their (your) imagination is boundless, and really the only thing holding them back from a standing ovation and a well-deserved write-up on Page 6 is you, you delightful little worker bee. They’ve done their job, they’ve dreamt up the most magical of plans – an idea that once realized will surely impress and delight everyone – friends, family, those uninvited and unclean urchins peering into the windows looking forlorn. But here’s the thing, love, you really need to hop on board and do the work. I mean, they’ve already covered the hard stuff – the thinking bits. You just need to pull it together with that little elven magic thing or that holiday voodoo (we don’t judge here – judge free zone – all religions welcome) that you do. It’s really quite a mystery to us, but we all have our strengths, and mine is thinking and yours is doing. Oh, please don’t bother us with the details, just… you know… do what you’re good at, my favorite little minion, love you, kisses – see, you’re super good at “realizing” my vision. DUH! Don’t doubt yourself, dear! I believe in you. Let me know when you’re done, and then you can send out the invitations.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand idea fairies. From the gal who thinks we’re going to have a White Elephant gift exchange that I should make happen (for the record, I genuinely loathe White Elephant gift exchanges, I don’t get the rules. Plus, I already have a lot of junk in my house. In fact, if you’re looking for unopened/unmolested oddities to bring to your next one, just swing by. I’ll hook you up with some whimsy! OH! unless the White Elephant exchange is actually a White Elephant board game/card game exchange then HOLY COW, sign me up! That sounds amazing. Whoops! I think I just Idea Fairied that and I also made it a verb – go me) to something as simple as the person who says, “let’s all get together, you just call up these people and let me know when it is.” Ummm… no. Not doing that either.
Now in truth, we’ve all done this at some point or another to some degree. We’ve had an idea, couldn’t quite figure out how to pull it off, and we started looking at our friends/family/co-workers for help. Take last year when I had my Reverse Quinceañera. I wasn’t sure what that would look like, so I threw that out to friends, then I held meetings (yep, meetings) and sent many, many annoying emails. I recruited a team. I had a ton of people who hopped on board to make that vision happen, and who even added onto it. In the end I had this incredible celebration that included a Bollywood instructor, and things like a party play list, dance speakers, a fairly full open bar with specialty birthday drinks, a photo booth, a professional photographer, people who volunteered to craft decorations, who put the food together. I had a set-up team, a tear-down team, and someone willing to join the VA so I could get a significant discount on a hall. It was massive, and it was a collaborative event. One that started with an idea. And while it did start as an idea, I always planned to be heavily involved not play party princess, wave my hand around and demand my minions hustle. (Although, during the party where I was a party prop, I did feel like a princess – it may have been the actual hair ornament or the fancy dresses or the fact that to visit with me, you literally had to queue up.)
I like to think that my friends were willing to build on this dream and take my birthday party to that next, more amazing level, because of their buy-in. That they saw I was always driving this locomotive, ready to work, ready to bring it together, instead of simply flopping on the ground before them and demanding, “I need a party, people!!! A phenomenal soirée! Now go forth and make it happen my floundering little lackeys! Of course, I can’t help. Don’t be ridiculous. Mama needs a spa day! All that dreaming and bossing you around takes a toll! Chop chop! Could someone massage my feet?”
And that’s what you sound like when you try to push your idea on someone else and insist they make it happen for you. You sound like an annoying, and a tad bit entitled and spoiled, little prince/princess.
Don’t do that.
As the holidays are upon us, and so many grand ideas are hopping around in your head, ideas you KNOW will be more than well-received if they could just see the light of day, I empower you to spread your own wings and soar! This is your opportunity to show the world how capable you are in addition to the brilliance you’ve always displayed. Show them you can plan a lunch, AND invite all the people you love, all by yourself. You can use that phone, that email, and send those messages. You can even select a restaurant. No haggling. No “you decide” “no, you!” “No, YOU!!” You just do it. Show them you can throw that White Elephant gift exchange, you exquisitely brilliant creature, you! Everyone will sit in a circle, there will be hot ciders (the good kind, where you’re just a tad naughty), and you’ll giggle madly with your friends over their outrageous choices, those friends whose contact information you were able to divine on your very own, as you navigated the whole contacting them thing, and you’ll do it at a place of your choosing. You’ll be fine! Imagine that feeling of serene accomplishment as you bask in the glow of the accolades you’ll receive. And you know what? Those little minions (call them “friends” – that’ll be a great first start), say the word, and they’ll even “help” you – not do it for you, but help, because they’re excited now, too.
You got this former idea fairy. Now go make a plan!!
PS Real life note to friends: If (big if) I plan a karaoke couple of hours at the High Ball on the 22nd, AND then we drifted over somewhere for say a White Elephant game exchange, who would have interest? FYI – with karaoke, think “group singalong” – you’re not expected to solo, but that option is always available. We sing until Dancing Queen plays.
It would be easy to dive into the importance of saying, “Thank You” to kick off the modern manners posts. I mean, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, and it’s a great time to remind people to polish off their gratitude, but I hate easy. Instead, let’s talk about “no”.
Thanks to so many technological advances, we are more closely connected than we’ve ever been. I can begin any given day by wishing my friend Julie a cheerful “Good Morning, Pooh!” in New Zealand, and she can see that message immediately (and then, of course, curse me immediately while muttering something about respecting the time difference and how I’d better be texting I won the lottery. But really who’s at fault? Me or the person who had their notifications turned up loud enough that it would disturb their sleep? Oh, still me? Hmph.) The fact I can annoy someone at an inappropriate time, half-way around the globe is amazing. Thanks to satellites and submarine communication cables, we’ve become this well-connected world. We can set-aside those dusty atlases and decades-old volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and experience new people, learn new things, and see our living planet in real-time – not through the lens of some stuffy entitled British explorer. (To my stuffy, entitled British readers. I’m American. That’s really my only excuse. I’d apologize, but you made us. Thanks.) It’s all incredibly cool when you take a step back and really think about it. Gone are the days where we’d have to bargain for more library time just to explore another culture – another person’s thoughts/perspectives.
As a kid, I deeply envied my friends who had pen-pals who lived in foreign places. They received letters in these cool airmail envelopes with their exotic stamps from another kid who was living a wholly different life, having different experiences than our own. These lucky friends got to talk to them – got to hear their stories. Now I can simply send off an email to another country and have a near-real-time conversation (and let them know I’m a Princess in Texas who will give them millions, but first I need them to wire me several thousand dollars). It’s fantastic!
As we’ve grown closer, we’ve also become more comfortable sharing who we are – from our successes to our struggles – from our toes wiggling next to carefully placed fruity drinks on a beach to our emotional challenges. We’ve moved into a world where there are fewer strangers – we “see” each other more, and we tell ourselves we’re more enlightened, more accepting, and more understanding.
This post is for enlightened, accepting, understanding you as we head into the holidays. This is for the you who gets “it” – the hyper-empathetic you who feel all the feels – the “woke” you. This post is for the you who gives a thumbs-up and a heart every time a friend, near friend or that guy from your class expresses themselves. You who wish you had emoticon stickers so that when you’re forced to interact with an actual person, and they say something great, you could just reach over and slap a “Haha!” sticker on their shirt. (Note to self: sketch idea – who wants to help me write that?)
I’m writing to tell you, it’s ok for someone to tell you “no”.
You know their story, you’ve read their posts/status updates, you’ve talked to them in the halls or in a class. You feel comfortable with them because you feel a closeness – you “get” them, you enjoy them, and you invite them into your life. Then one day you extend an invitation to a gathering, to dinner, to any number of things because you want to include them more, and they just said, “no.” It can feel like a slap on the hand, and many of us have a bad habit of internalizing rejections. We make that “no” about us. How could they say “no” to this terrific idea? I’m including them. Don’t they appreciate me and this great opportunity?
We’re pretty fantastic and we definitely have the best ideas, so a “no” can be challenging to understand. Why wouldn’t someone want to be a part of this thing we invited them to do – to be part of us? Our spastic brain gerbils kick into overdrive, “They must not like me! That’s the only answer!” Then we take a moment to list all the ways that we’ve been terrific friends, “look at all the things I’ve done and I’m asking is just this small thing.”
Well my amazing friend, a “no” isn’t necessarily a rejection of you.
You’ve read their posts/status updates, you’ve talked to them in the halls or in a class. (You’ve read this sentence before.) You know their story. You also understand that people are fairly self-focused. At any given moment only a fraction of our thoughts are devoted to others – with obvious exceptions and to obvious degrees. A lot of what we do is based on our own needs. So, my point is this: When someone says “no” think of five reasons why they may have said “no” that has nothing to do with you. Think back to the time that person posted repeatedly, whether in their own words or in a meme, “I’m an introvert; it takes a lot of energy to be around big groups of people.” “I lost <friend/relative/beloved pet> and my heart is wounded.” “I’m struggling with a health/mental health issue that prevents me from doing things/being around people.” “I just got back from <someplace outside of their house>, and I am looking forward to some downtime.”
After Jay died, I told several people I didn’t feel like sending out Christmas cards. (Christmas cards used to be my thing.) One friend decided what I was saying was: 1) I didn’t want to receive Christmas cards, and 2) I didn’t like sending her Christmas cards. I know this may be surprising, but my Christmas card stance was never about anyone else other than me. I was saying “no” to certain aspects of Christmas, but not “no” to people.
Really listen to the person who is saying, “no.”
If it’s still important to you that you do something with them/for them, then I challenge you to try and find another option. If big crowds aren’t their thing, if they’re struggling with loss or depression, if they’re covered from head-to-toe in a body rash, or are having a huge acne flare-up, and the cheap hair dye turned their hair a dusky green, then maybe you visit with them one-on-one – maybe you send them a text or call them on the phone. You flex those empathy muscles and show them you heard them, you understand, and you’re still there for them – willing to compromise, but showing you still want to include them. Show that you “heard” them.
And share your own needs, too. If something is important to you, then express it. Their “no” could be that they didn’t realize you needed them – that what your’e asking is something that matters.
Let’s all agree to work on listening, communicating, and and not making assumptions when it comes to “no’s.” Let’s pull our egos out of the equation. Instead, think of “no” as an opportunity – an opportunity to grow in our understanding of each other.