When remembering you it is with the awareness of middle age. Maturing expands perspective, yet I do not wish to diminish the gravity of your situation by flippantly comparing it to global crises. The subject at hand is your personal experience, not how it relates to the world at large. By today’s standards, what you are experiencing is bullying, yet in your present it is considered peer correction. You violated a social convention, and juvenile society ostracized you for it.

Almost thirty years have passed and it is still difficult to defend your actions, not to imply punishment was justified, but you committed a social transgression and actions have consequences. I do not believe the outcomes are personal, but the self preservation of kids piling on because they do not wish to draw the attention to themselves. Offering sympathy, would have jeopardized their own social status. At this age, non-conformity is a sin.

When considering life a race, it is presumed starting and finish lines equidistant for all participants, yet that is a myth. Each person’s best in any given situation is based on who they are as an individual, not how they compare to the rest of the world. Do not blame your parents They are doing they best they can based on their experience. This will not ameliorate your situation, but remember they are trying and they love you. Do not punish them just because you are unhappy.

You might think, if this disappears then adolescence will be unworthy of therapy, but the reality is removing this moment is unlikely to alter your life in any significant way. This is happening because of your social awkwardness. It isn’t personal. You don’t conform to norms. Variations of this incident will repeat as you age.

This letter is harsh, but I believe you will benefit from truth more than a saccharine pep talk. Even if you witness someone get their due it will not validate your torment, and you will feel empty at the wastefulness of it all. Life will not stay the same. It will get better and worse. It isn’t always personal. Once you understand that, you can quit being a martyr. It’s boorish. Pity isn’t the same as affection. When you understand this, your coping skills will become stronger.

You are an introvert with social anxiety and will learn to function around it and co-exist in polite society. It’s okay. It’s who you are. You will struggle to find your place in this world, but you will find it and be sure of yourself. Do not worry about living up to others’ expectations. Be willing to set goals and work toward them. If necessary, modify your goals, but never stop setting them. Complacency is unattractive.

A word about religion. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about dogma or science. When you ask, be firm and respectful. One day you will be confident enough in your beliefs to be unintimidated by condemnation. Never quit asking difficult questions. Don’t just ask for answers, take it upon yourself to search for them.

~your forty year old self

A few months ago, there was a social situation in which I was obligated to go through the motions of being present knowing my presence wasn’t specific to the situation. My absence would have gained more attention than my presence. It was only in attending that I became invisible.

I was irritated. I knew it would happen, before it happened and I felt there were better ways to spend my time than playing the background to someone else’s obligatory pity lunch. I couldn’t say anything before the meeting because it would have spoiled my partner’s mood and made the situation more awkward.

I’m speaking vaguely because I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, or assign feelings to others. I own only my story.

After thinking about it, I realize it isn’t an issue of assigning blame anyway. There is no fault, just a cast of characters playing roles rather than observing people for who they are in a specific moment. My irritation was misguided. Now when I think of it I feel wistful and mildly disappointed.

*****

Does irritation materialize faster than sadness? Could it be that anger feels like a driven emotion and disappointment feels unmoored?

Being in a relationship changed me in ways I never anticipated. Changes both good and bad. Most changes I didn’t notice as they were happening. Viewing one’s self from the inside distorts the image.

Sometimes I miss my single self, in the wistful way one laments lost youth. I miss the self-reliance of being solo, the drive and the self-assurance. Not surprisingly this list relies much on self.

Comfort led to complacency and inertia. I have tried to blame my inertia on my partner. He lacks motivation so why should I be motivated. At least that’s what I told myself. But maybe he doesn’t lack motivation, maybe he is more easily contented with words, and I prefer action. Inertia is not caused by a third party; it is a force imposed on the object, by the object that must be overcome to abandon stasis. Inertia is self-inflicted.

As I walked my dogs, I could see a woman ahead crossing the street with an empty wine glass and a white, toy poodle trailing her steps. I paused, knowing my dogs are incapable of passing closely to other dogs without pulling and straining. 

Once the lady stepped on the curb, she saw me and appologized for her loose dog. I smiled and told her I wish I could allow my dogs off leash.

I wished that moment was mine. Calm dog, empty wine glass, and preoccupied with a visit across the street.

“Do you like everyone that you meet? [pause] Why would your dog?”

Learning to be a partner to my dog is teaching me things about human relationships. Social conventions are learned abstractly though interaction…trial by fire. Some are adept students. I was not. I am still learning. Slowly.

If I had adopted a dog before now, and enrolled in obedience classes, I don’t know if I would have been ready to learn the things that I am learning now. It seems late in life, but some things we do not learn until we are receptive.

Lately, I have noticed family members trying to avoid unnecessary conflict. Events are not friction free, but body language indicates people are measuring responses carefully, not walking on eggshells, but rejecting passive aggression for thoughtful measured responses. There’s no absence of sarcasm, but battles are selected with care.

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