Afternoon Pick-Me-Up

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who I really care about. The weather was perfect for eating outside at one of those chess tables in Washington Square Park, so we picked a seat and had a chat that has left me in a contemplative state.

Knowing my twenty-fifth birthday is coming up, she asked me if my current life is what I had envisioned it would be, in the years leading up to it. I told her I wasn’t sure how to answer that question, because I hadn’t, in the past five years, given much thought about how or what I envisioned my life to look like at age twenty-five. Honestly: I remember graduating high school and going to community college and having a vision of the kind of university I wanted to attend. I knew I wanted it to be really great, and impressive, and somewhere that would help me find myself and flourish. And then once I got to that university and was just killin’ it!, I began to envision the kind of job I wanted to have after college that would allow me to stay in the city and keep killin’ it! Beyond that, I hadn’t given things much thought.

“I think I’m content with where things are at in my life right now,” I explained to her, “I’m more worried about what comes after twenty-five.”

“Oh really?” She seemed shocked. “Why?”

It’s difficult for me to explain why, but I tried: “Well…I just have this idea of what I want to accomplish in the next few years, or by the time I’m thirty…” I started to grow self-conscious. Deep down, I know it’s mildly ridiculous to have these kinds of formulaic standards and expectations of ourselves, I must have fulfilled all my goals and achieved all of my accomplishments and have taken over the world and matured into a perfectly functional adult human being, all by age 30. Ridiculous, right? But I do have a lot of expectations of myself, especially professionally. And besides, I like to know what’s coming next, remember?

So my friend asked me what that vision for the next few years was, what it looked like. And I found myself talking about the trajectory of my career, what kind of job I see myself having in the future. She didn’t seem surprised by my response.

“What about,” she began, “do you have an idea of the ideal kind of…”

“No,” I interrupted her. I knew where she was going with this…

She looked up at me at that moment and sort of began to laugh. “Sorry,” I said, “but no, I don’t have an idea of my ‘ideal man.'” I mean…that’s a tough question to have an answer to, is it not?

To be fair, I do have some semblance of what I want and what I don’t want in a partner, what I like and what I don’t like. As our conversation continued, it became clear that this whole “ideal man” business was trickier than it seemed, and more about me, and less about “him”.

“You are one of the most determined young women I know of,” she said to me, “so I just don’t understand why you don’t apply the same determination that you apply to your job toward your personal life as well.”

I have to be honest: she really struck a chord here. I’ve known this about myself for years. I used to be ardently determined about carving out the best version of myself, but had become less diligent about it over the years. I didn’t know how to explain this to her, as it would have involved unearthing a past experience that broke me down to my core and left me shattered and depressed for years. But I ended up giving her a slightly detailed gist of it: When I was in college, I dated someone my parents didn’t approve of. I have always been close to my parents, so our home life become complete and utter hell for the time that I dated him. Things got so bad that they threatened to disown me. One year, I purposely didn’t come home for the holidays, and we were all so miserable. Eventually…this guy and I broke up. At the time, I was too deep denial about literally everything in my life to really be conscious of why I broke up with him. But as time passed, it became clear to me: we didn’t want the same things in life. He wanted to be a rockstar, and while I was madly in love with him for being such a talented artist, it dawned on me (seemingly all too soon and too late at the same time) that in order to “make it” (and I had no doubt that he would), he would have to constantly leave me to be on tour. I couldn’t help but begin to think about how that reality would play into the future I envisioned for myself, the kind of partnership I wanted, the kind of family I wanted to raise, and the kind of life I wanted to build. And as much as we loved each other, I realized that love wasn’t going to be enough. At the end of the day, we had different visions for our lives. He wanted to tour and create music and share it with the world, and I wanted to be with a partner who was available and around, who would start and end each day with me and help me raise a family. I felt ashamed of my vision because it wasn’t the same as his, and because it demanded a sense of security and stability that I knew his vision simply couldn’t offer.

My friend listened patiently as I recalled this story from my past. She had been aware of some tumultuous relationship that I had been in, but not in detail. She knew about what happened with my parents, but not about the personal shame I carried with me for years. Looking back, I feel lucky to have had certain individuals at that time in my life who supported me and helped me work through that shame, be compassionate toward myself for knowing what it was I wanted, and learn to accept that there was nothing wrong with my vision–that I was allowed to have mine, he was allowed to have his, and just because the two were too different to work together didn’t mean I was the worst person in the world. Though for a while, I really felt like I was.

“So,” I concluded, “I learned a lot from that relationship. I learned about some things that I like and want in a partner, and other things that I don’t like or want so much…and I learned these things kind of young, in college. It forced me to grow up quicker than my peers, and in a very short amount of time. Afterwards, I felt aged. And yet, I still don’t have a full idea of my ‘ideal man’. All of these factors have made the prospect of dating seem too difficult to be worth trying…and it doesn’t help that the average guy I meet just wants to get into my pants. I know I’m still young and have a lot to learn, but I show up to the table knowing the things I have learned…and sometimes that’s a hard place to start from.”

I waited for her to respond. “You know,” she began, “I’ve learned a lot in my lifetime, and if I knew at your age what I know now at mine, my life would be very different. Since I can’t go back in time and do that, I’ll try to pass along some of my knowledge to you, maybe it’ll be useful…” I nervously sat on my hands; I didn’t know where this was going, but I had a gut feeling she was about to say something that was going to make me think…

“Our past experiences are just that: in the past. They come along to teach us something, but they don’t define us.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “How do they NOT define us?! I wouldn’t be who I am today without the experience of that relationship in my life…”

“You just don’t,” she said. “You learn from them, but then you have to let them go. It’s no wonder you find it hard to date. You show up with all this baggage. That’s not so encouraging. Even as your friend, I don’t want to take that on. Imagine how a guy would feel…”

I let that sit for a minute. Surprisingly, I wasn’t offended by what she said. She was making a really good point. Maybe it’s a lot to start off with?

“I’m not saying this to hurt you,” she continued, “but you are such a great girl and you have everything going for you… I see how young and determined you are, and I’d like for you to apply some of that determination toward your personal life. Holding on to past experiences is a lot of heavy baggage to carry. Why do you have this need to own those experiences?”

It was a damn good question. I really do believe that the core most important experiences of my life are the things that make up the composition of who I am. So in a way, they are precious to me. I am who I am because of the sum of all of these experiences! I never want to let them go. I’m afraid that if I do, I might lose those parts of myself.

“But you won’t,” she said. “The whole point of having different experiences in your life is to learn from them. Once you’ve learned, you don’t forget. But you do move on. The lessons become part of you and what you know, but they stay in the past, while you move on with your life.”

She’s certainly on to something, that’s for sure. A lot of things, actually: for one, I am a very determined person, and yet, I know deep down inside of me that I have not applied that determination toward resolving personal issues within myself. I know this is true. I know this about myself. She hit the nail right on the head. Ever since that relationship, I have been moving at a snail’s pace to get back into the level of determination I had before it. I’ve been able to get back into it academically, and professionally, but personally…that’s still pending. Not to wallow in the past, but that relationship did a number on me and left me so drained that I just had to shut off my personal determination for a while, just to survive. But maybe it’s time to turn it back on?

It’s funny how life works. The timing of this conversation couldn’t be more uncanny since it speaks rather directly to my recent anxiety about my upcoming birthday (which I vented about here). I think aside from the given stressful logistics about planning my own birthday (and a milestone birthday at that!), I find myself worried about these latent internal conflicts, which have been lurking beneath the surface of my daily life. Underneath it all, I know that there’s something keeping me exactly where I have been for the last few years, and from…letting go of the baggage, freeing myself of the obligation to “own” it, and ultimately…from moving on, in a real way.

It’s strange and frightening and fascinating to me how we, as human beings, can be so multi-faceted and live our lives on so many different levels and to widely varying degrees within each of those levels. I’ve noticed this quality in myself, and I see it in others as well. It’s really overwhelming…you can be totally functional and deeply aware and very knowledgeable about one aspect of your life and then completely blind and lost and unaware in another. For me, I see myself as fiercely driven to progress professionally, but as this conversation revealed, rather hesitant about my personal growth.

Does any of this make sense or do I sound like a complete lunatic? I’ve been mulling over this for a little over a day now and I feel like I’ve just reached the tip of the iceberg…

For me, there’s always more to mull. My brother recently pointed that out to me. “Why do you have this insatiable need to always learn something from every little experience in your life?” he asked over text, totally exasperated with me. It made me laugh. He has a point, too. I guess not everything needs mulling over, but…maybe in this case, there’s still more to come.

This isn’t over, homeslices. I’m sure I’ll have more to share about this, soon. Until then…here’s a picture of a cutie of a puppy named Prancer, who is the perfect antidote to a day’s worth of rather solemn ruminations…

{Find more adorable afternoon pick-me-ups on the Waiting Dogs instagram}

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