Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Gnawing on thought fodder

(Fair warning - This is not a funny post.)

What loneliness is more lonely than distrust? -George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), novelist (1819-1880)


Once upon a time, I was a young girl, full of preconceived notions absorbed through exposure to my parents, church, friends, and mid-20th century societal norms.
As a result, I took myself very seriously, and thought I knew everything I needed to know about myself by the time I was 18. By the time I graduated high school, I'd been leader of a half-dozen school and civic groups, had gotten into the college of my choice, had sung at the National Cathedral, had been awarded top prizes in music and performance competitions, had rough camped in Wyoming, had learned to waterski, had been inducted into three honor societies, and had been featured in the front windows of a local photographer's shop.

In other words, I thought I had it all.

Except for one thing. I didn't have a boyfriend.

I didn't date in high school. I WANTED to, but had no idea of how to go about attracting a guy to the point that he would ask me out. Heaven forbid that I ask HIM out, because that simply was.not.done, except at Sadie Hawkins time, and the one time I tried to do that and the guy said "yes" I about died of excitement until he called me up and said he couldn't go with me because his girlfriend had asked him to go to THEIR Sadie Hawkins dance (he went to a different HS) and he needed to go with her. I said I understood, then went to my room and cried the bitter tears of the world's biggest loser.

OK, there were other dates. Two of them. In four years. There was the Homecoming Dance my freshman year. Big woop - dood turned out to be gay. Then there was the date AFTER I graduated, with the college boy, but no second date, because I acted like a total moron and got all nervous at the kissing part.

So, with that rich history behind me, I was determined to date once I hit the college campus. It took a week to get the first date, and a week to get dumped. It didn't take long to get more dates, and to get dumped again and again.

I sucked at the dating game. Bottom line? I didn't know how to act. I spent a lot of time trying to be the "perfect" girl. Oh sure, I was tall, blonde, thin, and attractive enough (or so people told me), but I was also pretty harsh and cynical, which I fought hard to hide. Mostly, I didn't succeed for long.

See, the thing is, it was difficult for me to trust that by just being ME, I was going to be "good enough." By extension then, any guy that I dated couldn't be trusted, because he didn't know the real me. Taking that sick mentality further, I was extremely jealous of ANY attention any guy I was seeing paid to any other girl, even if those girls were my buddies, because they might be better than me somehow, which mean I WASN'T perfect.


Those other women were threats to my carefully constructed personna of pretend perfection. That perfection that was supposed to make me everything that the guy could want. That perfection that would blind him to the presence of any other woman. That perfection that kept me trapped inside the shell I'd constructed, the one that was pretty and skinny and nice to everyone. The shell that held back the cynicism and sarcasm and hurt and insecurity and need for approval.

It was, to say the least, a difficult way to live. I was, to say the least, a difficult person to date because of it.
All that pretend wound up finding me lonely despite the boyfriends, because I wasn't being me. I didn't trust myself, therefore couldn't trust anyone else. The need to be perfect kept me at arm's length from intimacy, kept me holed up, kept me wishing for real affection and closeness.

If I knew then what I know now, life would have been so very different. If I'd known then that being who I am is enough for some people, that being me might mean that not everyone likes me and I wouldn't perish because of that, that being me might make people like me MORE, I would have been so very different.
Most importantly, I know I wouldn't have been so lonely for so long.

Lonely sucks. Being lonely because you can't trust sucks more. Getting over that character flaw is hard work, and scary work. Allowing trust into your life takes faith and hope and a willingness to open your heart. Those things, to someone like I was, are scarier than any number of kinds of horrible deaths or public embarrassments.

Time passed. Many years went by, in which I slowly shed the "perfect" personna." And while it's not fully gone yet, I can say that it's good to grow up. It's good to be the me I am now, It's good to know that I can be goofy or crass or sad or giddy or confused or witty or bitingly insightful or sarcastic, and it's OK. My friends understand all this, and they appreciate the WHOLE person, not some fantasy of perfection and accommodation that I used to try to believe was really me.

The upshot of all this toil and self-discovery is that I'm not lonely anymore, because I trust myself. In that trust and strength I have become more available, more real, more me than ever before. It's been a long time coming, and there's more work yet to do, but at least now there's a chance to spend the next half of my life as myself, fully open and available.
Growing up continues to be a grand adventure.

Just thought you ought to know.

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