Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Full Speed Ahead

I just wanted to take a minute to thank you, my friends, for reading, commenting and sharing your reactions to what I write. I'm really vulnerable and transparent in this little space, and you always make me feel less alone in my struggles. That's such a good feeling. Your kindness is an amazing blessing; thank you.

Since last week, I've been paying closer attention to my interactions with people and the vibe I give off. Men and women. Brad told me recently, "Sometimes you change the rules, and you don't always let people know." That is a very true statement. God bless my man who can lovingly point things out in me that I am unable to see. It took him about 23 years to master this without making me feel defensive (or for me to realize that he was actually being loving and not critical or condescending.)

Anyway, back to changing the rules. I do. All the time. Quick example: I decide that I no longer want to go to the gym because there's a creepy guy there who stalks me--I'm kidding, a little--but I don't tell my gym friend. I just start saying no. All the time. She thinks I'm mad at her, which is completely untrue, but I didn't communicate the rule change.

Another example: I nearly always decline "going out" invitations. But when a bunch of my friends go out and post awesome pictures on Facebook, I would sometimes feel hurt. In the past, I said no, so if I decide now that I'd like to be included, I need to advise my friends of the rule change, instead of whining about being left out.

Evidently feeling left out is a huge trigger for me because on a few occasions, my extended family have done things and not invited me, and I have felt extremely hurt. Granted, I'm a hermit who declines about 97% of invitations, so very few people would ever consider that my feelings would be hurt by not being invited somewhere. Additionally, I am positive that none of my family would intentionally exclude me to be hurtful. Still...trigger.

Once a friend told me when she hears people talking about doing something fun if she wants to do it, she simply invites herself. She's absolutely delightful, so of course everyone would want her to come along, but that was kind of a revelation for me. Oh, hey, just say you want to go. Huh.

Sometimes I get so upset over slights that have mostly occurred in my head that I cut people completely off from my heart so that they are incapable of hurting me again. They generally have no idea why or what they've done. I'm working on the whole "setting healthy boundaries" thing. It's going swimmingly.

Despite the aforementioned neuroses, I am really, really close to a few people. These people know all my secrets. I'm actually very proud of that because up until a year or so ago, I desperately kept those secrets to myself, fearing that the baggage I carried around would alienate even the most loyal person.

But outside of my inner circle, and some wonderful friends whom I adore but try not to drag into my cyclone of crazy, I am better at one-sided relationships. I used to joke that I had enough friends and wasn't auditioning new ones, but it wasn't really a joke. I like to listen to people's stories without having to share anything about myself. This usually works fine since lots of people would rather talk than listen. But I've also pushed people away because after sharing personal things with them, I felt they couldn't be trusted with the information. I often advise girlfriends: People who gossip to you will gossip about you. But, it's always difficult to listen to your own advice.

And as I continue to learn: I can't change anyone else's behavior, but I can control my behavior as well as my reactions and perceptions. I have had to rethink (or overthink) how I present myself to people. It's natural to feel close to someone whom you feel gets you, and I get lots of people. I think God gave me that gift in order to show people kindness and compassion. However, there are people who will misuse and take advantage of gifts.

I really need to exercise discernment more consistently. For me, discernment usually comes in two ways. One: A sick feeling in my stomach that says, "This person is not genuine and does not want you to achieve your highest good." Two: My husband saying, "Babe, you might wanna put the brakes on a little bit with this one."

So it continues, revisiting the Boundaries book that has been collecting dust on my shelf, learning how to be kind and compassionate without becoming enmeshed, and finally back to The Four Agreements, which today sound like this in my head:
  • Be impeccable with your word--don't say mean things about people. Ever.
  • Don't take anything personally--no one thought you would even want to be invited.
  • Don't make assumptions--you have to tell people when you change the rules. No one else lives in your head, lucky for them.
  • Always do your best--don't beat yourself up; just keep trying harder.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

You Look Really Pretty When You Smile.

When I was a little girl, I was terrified of men. In my only professional photograph, taken at age two, I'm smiling, but my eyes are and swollen. My mom attributes this to the photographer's maleness. I remember feeling afraid of men. Not my dad--well, a little bit--or my brothers, but strange men. Santa Clauses in the mall, photographers, and so on.

My super intense awareness saved me many times, once from a gymnastics coach who tried to convince me to go to the store with him so he could buy me a stuffed animal. For real. I was 9. He was a textbook predator.

I never completely got over that fear. Dr. K, someday when I make it for my appointment, you can undoubtedly help. Feel free to put in my growing file :)

As I got older, I wasn't so much afraid of men as ... uncomfortable. In fact, there are few men in my life with whom I'm really comfortable. I can count them on one hand and a few fingers. The aforementioned physician is an enigma being a virtual stranger and a man with whom I'm comfortable.

Recently articles and videos have shed light on veiled harassment, men telling women to smile, or whistling, cat-calling and more. My dad was a horrible harasser, but he would say he meant it as a compliment, and I genuinely believe his harassment was without malice. I also really loved him so this might be an excuse. He did embarrass me many times by flirting with my friends, waitresses and cashiers.

While I've always been hyper-aware of this behavior, my discomfort doesn't rest on a whistle, wink, sideward glance or whatever. I rarely make eye contact with men (other than the aforementioned ones, my magnificent 7) because I feel like it is an invitation; my eyes give a lot away. This sounds unkind, but I doubt people would judge me if they know what it feels like to walk away from a conversation feeling as if they've been licked all over. You might never have expressed it in such vulgar terms, but I'm willing to bet lots of women know that feeling.

Like the scene from pretty woman where George Costanza tries to rape Julia Roberts. That's an extreme example, but it's the feeling. The weird, uncomfortable, having someone look at you as if you're a meal. The I-wish-I-had-another-button-or-maybe-a-taser feeling.

It is this feeling that makes me despise a few run-of-the-mill tasks: Taking my car for any sort of maintenance, going to a car dealership, taking aluminum cans to the scrap yard; basically anything involving close contact with men who are outside of my circle of comfort.

Recently, I was harassed picking up my daughter from school. One divorced dad decided of all the people standing in line looking at their phones to avoid small talk, he would make small talk with me. As the days wore on, he began seeking me out, commenting on my gym card on my key ring and even asking me when I went, what I did there and so forth. My keys were in my left hand which also bears my WEDDING RING, which he did not mention. Ugh.

Once, I was pursued by a "lonely widower" in Walmart who followed me around the store for about a half hour striking up conversations despite my repeatedly walking away from him. He continued to follow me until I finally said, "You are making me very uncomfortable. I'm walking away, and I'm going to call security if you follow me." Lest there be any doubt.

Not long ago in church, I saved a seat with my purse, and a creepy dude sat there. In church. Calling him creepy might be a sin, but Jesus knows that I tried to be kind. I sat next to him. He leaned up against me and elbowed me when my pastor/brother-in-law made a joke. Said pastor/brother-in-law is really funny (also in my Magnificent 7), so there were lots of jokes and subsequent elbowing and leaning in and, ughhhhh, it was weird. My husband was sitting right behind me perfectly calm as this guy was trying to get to first base. Go figure. "I was right there, babe. You didn't have anything to worry about." But he was annoyed a week later when some a creepy guy stared at me.

I'm not picking on men; well, I am picking on men who harass women in church or Walmart or elementary schools or ANYWHERE. My magnificent 7 would not accost anyone in Walmart. I doubt they make women uncomfortable. They are husbands and fathers and probably would not approach a strange woman in a store or parking lot because it could be creepy. And they've heard enough from their wives about creepy men.

Now, I have stopped going to the gym; I'm going to blame it on school-pick-up guy, but that might be a convenient excuse. I schedule any and all stuff that involves a repair man coming into my house to occur only when Brad Bell is here (except for WiFi repairs, but those repair guys are very nice and not creepy--good for you, Time Warner). I still go to Walmart, but I avoid eye contact with just about everyone. And when I pick Lily up from school, I wait til the last minute so I don't have to wait in line and subject myself to any creepiness.

I've got a lot more creepy guy stories; what about you? Have you ever felt uncomfortable, objectified, or like you've been licked all over? Tell me about it, sister.