Stop! Imposter! (Or Boys, Boys, Boys, Part 5)

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I work in higher education, but this is not your grandpa’s higher education establishment. I work at an institution that has a majority minority population, is part of a larger system where half of the students served are the first in their family to graduate from a four-year institution, 3 out of 5 students deal with hunger, and 1 out of 11 students deal with homelessness. This means, I see a lot of students and clients dealing with Imposter Syndrome. Common in females, people of color, and first generation college students, Imposter Syndrome leaves people plagued by the belief that it was luck that got them to where they are and at any moment, they could be discovered to be a fraud. It doesn’t matter how much competence someone with Imposter Syndrome exhibits or how much success they experience, their minds are too entrenched in insecurity to see this evidence. What many of my students don’t know is how often I, too, deal with this phenomenon. I’ve been dealing with it much of my life, but lately, it’s been presenting itself in a new and unexpected way.

My job is people and I am good at my job. Despite it taking what seems like forever to get all the hours needed for licensure, I feel confident in my therapeutic skills. Not an arrogant confidence that is unwilling to reflect or grow or acknowledge mistakes, but the kind of confidence that allows me to admit that I’m actually a really good counselor. I may be better at it than anything else I’ve tried or will try in my life. I used to dream of being ambitious and entrepreneurial. Now, most days I think I’ll be content doing good work and helping new clinicians grow for the rest of my life. While that could change anytime, what won’t change is my ability to be a good therapist. I firmly believe this will only grow as I do.

There is a strange experience that therapists have to navigate, however. A good therapist has to help clients gain insight about experiences they have never shared. Whether related to addiction, death, or divorce, a talented therapist must learn and grow through professional development and consultation in ways that allow them to process effectively with a client regarding circumstances they have never themselves lived. It’s not uncommon for certain populations to make accusations such as “but do you even have children?” or “but you can’t understand unless you’ve dealt with addiction!” and the best therapists must be prepared to answer.

Working at a university means I hear a great deal about relationships. I have to be comfortable talking about any situation you could possibly imagine in the context of romantic relationships without judgment and ready with psychoeducation on on countless predicaments. As I said already, I am good at it, too. But lately, I’ve been feeling that maybe I am better at being a counselor than I am at living my own life. So often, as I hear my clients talking, I hear my own story in different forms. The client with minimal relationship experience, the client who bases their value on whether or not someone likes them, the client who wants companionship, I see myself in them. Beyond that, I feel myself longing that I could be as good at living out this relationship stuff in real life as I am at guiding clients through it. Why can’t I demonstrate the awareness and insight I’m so adept at spotting for others? Because of my deftness at work, it is not uncommon for someone who sees me in one setting to be surprised at how bad I am at boys in another. At work, I seem confident, composed, self-assured, so why am I so clueless and self-conscious in my dating life?

As I’ve shared, I can struggle with vulnerability, so I utilize this trick I’m really good at. When I’m not ready to share about something, I ask others as many questions about themselves as I can so that they fill the airspace and I don’t have to. If they turn the questioning back on me, I might laugh, give a quick answer, then switch it back to them. My endless ability to ask meaningful questions and allow others to feel heard is probably a huge part of what makes me a great therapist. However, on dates, I’ve been told it can make people feel like they are being interviewed. My lack of ability to flirt (as flirting takes a certain amount of confidence and vulnerability) and my difficulty relaxing and letting my guard down, turns off anyone and everyone who doesn’t doesn’t have a fantasy of dating more of a teacher or old sage type. Unfortunately, when I finally am comfortable enough to turn off counselor mode, this usually means we’ve still only hit the phase when I engage in excessive nervous chatter and self-deprecation. To actually let my guard down, allow myself to believe someone could really like me for me, find me attractive, relax with someone, that takes much, much, much longer. Probably longer than most are willing to wait and longer than I’m willing to endure. I want to skip over all the nonsense in the beginning and get straight to the part when I’m comfortable. I know that’s not how it works, but I keep looking for the secret formula, the love potion, the instant fix.

I like feeling confident and in my element, therefore, I avoid what is risky. I steer clear of any circumstance in which I might be labeled a fraud. My deepest fear is that the facade will crack and all my inconvenient bits will be peeking out from underneath. However,  I know that’s what a true, meaningful relationship requires. I must risk making a total fool out of myself and hope someone may actually find my foolishness attractive if I am ever going to grow. I must exhibit patience when it would be easier to cut and run. I must answer truthfully when it would be easier to listen to others speak instead. I must do this, because no one (okay, maybe no one healthy) wants to date their therapist.

Final Disclaimer: This is the final post for now in my series about boys, dating, etc. Thanks for reading along with my rambling thoughts. For anyone who thought the series would wrap up with a pretty little bow, I apologize. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how this all works yet, and that’s just not how my life seems to go. It would be fun to write about online dating escapades, but let’s be real, that’s way too large of a disclosure for a public forum like the internet. However, if you are a trusted friend, I’d be happy to chat about the ways I have already changed and grown as I’ve been writing this series.

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Why Don’t You Like Me? (Or Boys, Boys, Boys… Part 4)

 

Have you ever had to sit and listen to someone while they explained to you that the person you have a crush on has been expressing interest in them? What about having to listen to your crush tell you they have interest in someone else?

These are simultaneously some of the most awkward and heart-crushing moments. You just sit there listening, unable to respond, barely able to breathe. I have had these experiences on more than one occasion. Potentially, the strangest of these situations, however, is when the person talking to you does not reciprocate interest in your crush. In fact, few things feel as strange as having to listen to someone tell you all the reasons why they would never view your crush as a viable option. He’s too short, he’s too quiet, he’s not the race they are attracted to… It’s hard to know what would be worse, hearing that they actually wanted to be with your crush and then seeing them together or knowing that the thing you long for is available to someone else and they don’t even want it.

Why do we like who we like and why do we not like who we don’t like? Why is it that we sometimes can’t seem to want those who so badly want us and we dream of being with those who will never want us? Is it all visceral or chemical? Can we tweak our desires with enough patience and dedication or will we be forever doomed to the reality that despite how perfect for us someone may seem, we just can’t make ourselves have romantic feelings when we don’t?

There was a season of my life when I knew a woman that all the men in the community seemed to be particularly attracted to. She and I could not have been more different and we were certainly never destined to be friends, but I had the chance to have conversations with her on a couple of occasions. During one of those occasions she was actually lamenting having men who didn’t even know her expressing interest. Sure, it was fun to be attractive, and sure, she was a nice enough person and had no intention of changing that, but she wished for the day when someone would truly get to know her before deciding they liked her. My stomach churned. A lot of people knew me well and had absolutely no interest. I used to think she was ungrateful (every guy I wanted, wanted her, and she didn’t want them), but now I see that despite our vastly different experiences (she was one of the pretty girls that I would never be), we ultimately both wanted the same thing.

So what is a single gal surrounded by tons of single people in the same predicament to do?

There is a piece of this that I do believe cannot be changed. No matter how much we may be (or try to be) exactly what somebody else claims they want, at the end of the day, sometimes seemingly without any explanation, the person we like just doesn’t like us back. These are the times when we have to rally and simply get over it. So… they don’t like you… take your (reasonable) time to grieve and move on. If you don’t want a relationship, you are missing out on quality time with yourself as a single person. If you still desire a relationship, there is absolutely no value in languishing in despondency and despair. Just because they don’t like you, doesn’t mean no one ever will. This is your 30s, not 3rd grade. As a wise friend once said to me about a heartache, “you do not have time to be sad about this for 6 months.” Half a year sad about a crush turning you down in your 30s is nothing more than half a year wasted.

But… There is another side to this I believe we have a lot more control over… I think we need to stop seeking out the most predictable people. All the guys lining up for the skinny blonde and all the girls lining up for the tall guy with muscles are only clogging the system. As if we weren’t superficial enough, this online dating society we now live in has us believing we have access to the (figurative) beauty queen and the prom king. At the risk of sounding far too pessimistic, we don’t. If I didn’t get the “it” guy in junior high OR high school OR college OR my twenties, I’m not practicing very good logic if I think I am going to get him now. There’s nothing wrong with not being attracted to someone or moving on when someone isn’t a good fit, but I do believe you are missing out when you overlook someone you could fall madly in love with if you only gave yourself the chance.

I know so many incredible single men and women who want to find love. They are funny and attractive. They are educated and have great jobs. They have kind hearts and love deeply. Ok, so he’s not as tall as you would like, but does he make you laugh? Sure, you imagined yourself with someone thinner, but does she make you feel loved and accepted? You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. You can’t be super picky, then wail “woe is me” that “no one” likes you. You can’t claim to be the girl (or guy) that everyone looks over, meanwhile looking over anyone and everyone who doesn’t match your ideal. I see it played out time and time again at church, at work, in the dance clubs, and I think it needs to stop. Ask yourselves and others the good, hard questions. Allow yourself to talk to and get to know someone other than the first person you are drawn to in the room. Go on that second date (if you enjoyed yourself) even if they’re not your type. Let yourself say no to dates if you find yourself only wanting to go for silly or superficial reasons.

So where does my story come into play in all of this? I simply cannot tell you how many men I have had feelings for that did not have feelings for me. Many (all?) of these men I have wasted far too much time on. Sometimes, I wonder how many opportunities I missed while I was throwing my own personal pity parties day after day. While it’s more comfortable for me to believe I am the one who is “always” overlooked, deep down, I know that “always” is a gross exaggeration. Despite flaws physical, emotional, or otherwise, people find love everyday and I know that I have access to that reality just as much as every perpetually desired, pretty girl out there does. There is enough love for me; there are opportunities out there for me if I am willing to explore them. Of course there are complications (as there are to some extent with everyone), but those complications don’t exclude me from the process AND if we are willing to humble ourselves and look outside the box, I don’t think they have to exclude anyone else either.

Mr. Nice Guy (Or Boys, boys, boys… Part III)

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In addition to doing my first series, I have decided to step outside of the norm in another way that is a completely unplanned, beautiful surprise. Last week, I was away at a retreat with my student leaders and I had the opportunity to hear one of my colleagues boldly share a part of his story. As I heard him share, I realized he was referencing a piece of this puzzle that I would never be able to speak to, but that felt so relevant and important to making more sense of my story. I had experienced my side of things from what might be considered “the girl” perspective, but I had never known what was potentially going on in the minds of some of “the boys” that I was interacting with. While he spoke, I was itching to speak to him about how our stories differ and what they have in common. After he finished, I couldn’t resist asking him to write a piece for my blog. Despite it being one of the busiest times of the year for those of us who work in Higher Ed, my colleague, Chris, has gone above and beyond the call of duty to translate a part of his story into the written word and I am ridiculously excited to share it. Thanks, Chris, for your generosity and transparency! Here we go!

When Cat asked me to contribute my story to her blog, I was touched. I have thought long and hard about my story and it changes as I get older, but I am of the mind that it is important to talk about these issues, front and center. As a mid-30’s Chinese man, I have a similar but different understanding of what relationships and masculinity mean than Cat.

So, a little background, huh? I was raised in the middle of the Silicon Valley at the turn of the millennium. My high school was demographically 70% Asian, with a predominance of East Asian folks. My high school was what I would categorize generously as academically focused. In other words, we were a nerd school. And I don’t mean nerd as a derogatory word. We excelled academically. We consistently made the top 10 or top 25 public high school lists for the state. We sent folks to elite colleges. And I don’t mean to make it sound like we weren’t diverse or didn’t have different folks from different backgrounds with different dreams and hopes and wants and needs. But, I mean, the reality was that we had a very huge majority and a very overlooked minority.

As a result, my understanding of masculinity and relationships were very skewed. We didn’t really have a sexually aggressive high school. People were easily scandalized by public displays of affection. People were less open, less carefree, less forward with their understanding of themselves or their explorations of their sexuality. There was just an overwhelming sense of “don’t stand out, don’t make waves” at our school.

Combined with what 90’s media touted as healthy relationships (I’m looking at you, Boy Meets World), my sense of masculinity could be summed up by two words: Nice Guy.

I later learned just how loaded a term that was, but at the time, Nice Guy was actually something I thought was laudable; a badge of honor of sorts. In case you’re not familiar or only vaguely familiar with the idea of a Nice Guy, here ‘s a quick and dirty list of attributes:

  • Always polite, especially to parents
  • On-time, or early if possible
  • Always willing to do you a favor (non-transferable)
  • Generally good-natured (exceptions for pouting)
  • Favor harmony over assertiveness

But the badge of honor of Nice Guy came with a hint of derision, because I also simultaneously believed it be a trap, which is the impressive thing about Nice Guys: we are fine with contradictions. The trap was the idiom “Nice Guys finish last.” So we Nice Guys develop counter narratives to the list above.

  • Always polite but we expect reciprocation – you have to be polite back.
  • On-time or early but we expect you to be available, both physically present and emotionally available.
  • Always willing to do you a favor, but that means you owe us something. And we only really accept pseudo-relationship behavior (it would insult our chivalrous nature if you did something as uncouth as to pay us money < /sarcasm >).
  • Generally good-natured but we reserve the right to flip that if you disappoint us (and it is your responsibility not to make us angry < /sarcasm >).
  • Favor harmony over assertiveness, which you should too. After all, isn’t our friendship more important that that weird, creepy feeling you get in the back of your neck whenever you see my text messages? < /sarcasm >

That’s the flip side to being a Nice Guy – the niceness comes at a cost. And my experiences have been that we never talk about these costs. I mean, I didn’t even realize these costs originally. I don’t think most Nice Guys do. We consider ourselves ABOVE these petty emotional games. We sit back, listen to stories you tell us, and say stuff like “Wow, these other guys are treating you like crap.” But these costs are there, like how we don’t print sales taxes on the price of goods in the US. You have to do the mental math yourself.

And I realized that I was treating my female friends with unkindness. I was dealing with these feelings, didn’t know how to process them, and resorted to this stereotypical “Nice Guy” persona. And the male privilege in patriarchy gave me all the room in the world to do it. It let me hold the onus of emotional labor on the women in my life and let me off the hook for complex emotions. Every single piece of media I had at my fingertips told me that men didn’t need to do that work, that we were simple and women were complex and we were allowed to confront complicated emotional experiences with an eyeroll, shoulder shrug, and dismissive “women, eh?”

The whole concept of Nice Guys and their sibling Friend Zones relies on emotional manipulation. It conflates friendship with romanticism as the same thing – two ends of a spectrum. In actuality, friendship and romanticism are two different things. Different. As in not the same. And the general sense of quid pro quo interpersonal entanglement is the literal definition of manipulation.

My eye-opening moment was when a close friend of mine revealed that she had been in a year-long relationship with another friend of mine and they had gone out of their way to hide it from me. She was afraid of how I would react if I knew, because I was pretty vocal about my feelings for her. And she was 100% in the right – I would have reacted terribly. That one of my closest friends would feel like she had to hide one of the most important things in her life from me was a wake-up call, even though I didn’t do anything about it initially. It took a little bit after that of processing that I was able to realize what my role in all this was.

So, if you were following along (thank you for sitting through all that), you might be wondering “wait, when you started this whole thing, you made a point of talk about being Asian. Go back to that.” My pleasure. One of my realizations along the way was that social identities are so important in our understanding of the world. We can’t separate our identities from each other. I can’t turn off my Chinese brain. And one of those pieces of baggage that comes with being Asian, particularly East Asian, is the model minority myth.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the model minority myth, it’s the idea that Asians are wholly capable, good at science and math, and successful. The reason it’s a myth is because it’s patently not true. But it persists. We are seen as “successful” so we don’t need help, support, or even attention. And it creates this very narrow persona of what an Asian needs to be.

  • Smart or a know-it-all
  • Unemotional or not passionate about anything
  • Ignores complex social issues in favor of personal achievement
  • Subservient or not aggressive

Is this list starting to sound familiar? When one narrow box runs parallel to another narrow box, it becomes easier to fit the stereotype than to even question it.

So where am I today? I can say that I have been working on my understanding of masculinity for 15 years now. I have forgiven younger me for my faults. But every now and then I still see high school people pop up on Facebook and there are still lingering pangs. Sometimes a memory pops up in my brain and I feel some melancholy. But I also understand that was a path I needed to take to be who I am today. And I need to keep this alive because my takeaway, my lesson learned, is that I need to not dismiss how important this work is. For the sake of the younger me, the younger me’s friends and family, and what’s at stake for our understanding of masculinity, we need to keep talking about all this. Thanks Cat for a chance to do just that.

Chris also wanted me to make sure that everyone knew the photo featured on this post is from Wong Fu Productions. Here’s his blurb about it: “Special credit to Wong Fu Productions [for the photo]. I love Wong Fu and the work they do and have been a fan since their inception way back when. And while they may have subscribed to this nice guy-ness once, they have done a considerable amount of work dissecting and discussing what it means, particularly in an Asian diaspora, so kudos to their work. Check out their videos if you get a chance.”

Used & Confused (Or Boys, boys, boys… Part II)

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If you are reading this before reading the disclaimers from my last post, you should probably start there instead.

There are these years of my life that my sister and I refer to as “the bad years.” For me, the best of “the bad years” still had me sitting at 17 with 3 giant gaps in my teeth, the one I was born with and the two that were created when my baby teeth (mind you they were prominent eye teeth) that had not fallen out naturally had been pulled. I had braces to correct aforementioned teeth and a bright, wacky sense of style that never really fit in my rural environment. I was just starting to be allowed to wear makeup outside of special occasions, which meant I could finally cover up all that acne, but it also meant quite a bit of unfortunate experimentation. I was slowly increasing my confidence with my hair and starting to grow it out, but there was no one to properly do it and I didn’t know how to do it myself. I’d been recently permitted to start dating, but absolutely no one wanted to date me, which probably suited my parents just fine. Yes, I am describing the peak of “the bad years,” so perhaps that will allow you to get an idea of just how “bad” things could get. My life was the adolescent nightmare you see depicted in those late 90’s/early 2000’s teen movies before the girl gets the makeover. The difference was, I never got the makeover and I definitely never got the guy. I tortured myself for a very long time, believing that if only I had been prettier, if only I could find a way to make myself prettier, more appealing somehow, that men would like me.

That’s probably true in a sense. There’s plenty to back up the theory that the pretty girls actually do get the attention of more guys. I can’t subtract this reality from the equation, but then I got older and realized that my appearance wasn’t the only variable. Apparently, I had a difficult personality to contend with as well. For someone with a personality as strong as mine, it probably would have been easier to get a full face transplant than to act like the kind of girl the adolescent men around me were looking for.

So… I came up with a diabolical plan that I kept up for years. Except, I didn’t come up with it at all. It kind of just happened, and now with years of reflection, I can see what that poor little girl was doing. You see, I found a way to get boys to like me, in fact, I was an expert at it. No, they didn’t like me in the way I wanted, but maybe, just maybe, if I hung around long enough, someday they would. I became very skiiled at getting what is commonly now referred to as “friend zoned.” While their girlfriends were “moody,” I was reliable, sure and steady, tried and true. When they had relationship issues, I was a listening ear. I’d wait on them hand and foot AND always be up for a game of pick-up basketball or soccer. Feeling lonely during a relationship drought? I’d be the gal who always picked up the phone, who’d be ready and willing to go out to eat or go to the movies. Looking back, I ask myself if I was completely deluded. Then, I stop myself and remember I wasn’t. See, I often didn’t pay for those dinners or movies, I wasn’t the one scooching in closer, and I certainly wasn’t the one describing what a perfect girl I was or giving myself compliments for my appearance or outfits. As it turns out though, it didn’t matter whether someone was sending out mixed signals or if I was simply getting “the wrong impression.” At the end of the day, I still didn’t get the guy. When push came to shove, he was always walking away with another girl. When things were good, I wouldn’t hear from him, when things were not so good, he’d come back on the scene. And when he did, there I was, ready and willing to take him back. I wish I could say this happened once, or even twice. However, this didn’t happen just a couple times, this happened countless times over the course of decades. Decades I can’t and won’t get back.

Even though I can’t excuse the behavior of those males, my behavior is pretty inexcusable as well. It wasn’t honest. I had poor boundaries and those poor boundaries spilled into my other relationships. Worst of all, I began chasing people who were never right for me to begin with. You’re in a relationship? No problem, you won’t be forever. You’re a jerk who’s not going to treat me right? Not an issue, I don’t deserve to be treated right anyway. Aloof and disinterested? Just my type… It turns out, when you don’t like or respect yourself, it’s pretty hard to demand the respect you deserve from others. These were a different kind of “bad years” the years filled with what I now call “pseudo-relationships.” I’m thankful for healing. So many transformational moments (and people) have brought me to a place where most days, I love and respect myself. However, old habits die hard and it is still way easier for me to be “friend zoned” than to actually let someone love me, allow someone the opportunity to take care of me.

When it comes down to it, over the years, I have made myself far too accessible. I should have been more protective of my time and my heart. I have a dear, dear friend who constantly reminds me how many people I have in my life who love me and that I should only be giving my love and energy to those who will treasure it. I have come to believe she is right. I have to stop chasing. I can’t pick up the phone whenever it rings or return every text. If someone doesn’t have time for me in their best times, I can’t be their bright light during their worst. I can no longer brag about being “one of the guys” then cry that I’m not being treated like one of the girls. So, if you’re bored, call someone else. If you’re lonely, I’m not your gal. Need someone to talk to? I already have clients and I’m not your therapist. Getting better at saying “no” will hopefully allow me more time to say “yes.” Yes to people who are there through the good times and the bad. Yes to those who accept me for who I am even when my make-up is off the wall and I’m being completely over-the-top ridiculous. Yes to that sweet spot of true love and true friendship that is marked by warmth, and forgiveness, and consistency.

While accessibility can be a bit of a flaw of mine, there is one aspect that I never plan on letting go of. If you are there for me, I will always, always be there for you. So if you aren’t one of those “pseudo-relationships” I mentioned, don’t worry. If anything, you should be prepared for me to hold on to you a little bit tighter, because once you have tasted true love, you never want to let it go.

Boys, boys, boys…

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Quick disclaimers about this post:

1) This is reflective of my personal experiences and my own story. In no way is this based on research or meant to be an academic piece. Additionally, if you either do or do not identify with this post, I am happy to chat. While this could potentially grant me insight or change my perception of aspects of my story, hearing your story will not ultimately change the reality of my story.

2) I am not fishing for compliments or looking for cliché responses. While it can be kind to say nice things, likely no amount of nice things you say are going to change my story. If you wouldn’t have thought to say those kind things before reading this piece of my story, now may not be the best time to try them out.

3) This particular post may feel like it is breaking form from the other things I have written. It will be highly informal and probably far too vulnerable. I can only hope and pray it does not fall into the wrong hands.

4) This will be my first ever series. I have far too many things to say about boys to fit them in one post and I think it could be fun to push myself.

Ok, let’s begin.

I am bad at boys. Like, really, terribly bad. I don’t know what they like or what they want. I have a long, LONG history of being interested in men who will never be or could never be, interested in me and an even longer history of being entirely disinterested in the ones who do show interest. While I am horrific with males romantically, apparently, I am fantastic with them platonically. For much of my life, I have had very good male friends and during certain seasons have felt more meaningfully connected to them than I have to many of the female friends in my life. I often attribute this to being loud and intense (see previous blog), which I have found that the males in my life have sometimes had more of a tolerance for. But as I’ve said, I’m so bad at boys I don’t feel confident in saying this is the case.

Unfortunately, while I can joke and make light of the subject matter, I think the roots are far more sinister. I was trained to mistrust males. Those who know me well may know this part of my story, but for the rest of you, all you need to know is that there were reasons larger than me and completely outside of my control that coached me to believe that men were always up to no good and would not have my best interest at heart. Now… while I do believe that toxic masculinity is alive and well and our culture teaches men terrible things about themselves and what it means to be a man (another topic for another day as I could talk about this endlessly), I don’t ultimately believe men have any more of a propensity toward evil than women. I think people hurt people. We all do it and sadly those of us who were brought up to do it, do it more. Regardless of whether or not in my rational moments I can take a step back and realize I can be just as much of a jerk as the next guy (or gal), many of my days, I move through life assuming the worst of men with a fairly pessimistic overall view of relationships.

As you can imagine, this jaded view of things doesn’t exactly make for a flourishing dating life. Remember the days of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? I loved them when I was growing up. If you loved them as much as I did, you’ll recall there was always a conservative choice that prompted a boring and abrupt ending. If my dating life was a “Choose Your Own Adventure” it would end abruptly each and every time. I always play it safe. Determining at a young age in a variety of settings, it was better to have your dignity than be hurt, I have built up walls to guarantee those big, bad males will never get me, and believe me, I have suffered the price. It feels really uncomfortable to admit, but at least subconsciously, I don’t think the men I have been attracted to have been accidental. I think I have gone out of my way to ensure I never experience real vulnerability and intimacy in a romantic relationship, because if I ever took that chance, it would mean there would be a chance of getting hurt. I suppose at some point I decided it’s better for things to be boring than to be painful.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you slice it), I have some very convenient personality and physical traits which support this mission. I am not stereotypically beautiful. Standing at just barely 5’2″, dealing with lifelong acne, never being the skinniest in my friend group, and simultaneously having kinky hair and ridiculously pale skin, does not a model make. I’m often too black or too white or too confusing (or confused) and no matter the population of men on the table, whoever decides to be with me, is determining to enter into an interracial relationship, which is no small feat. It’s not a simple interracial relationship either, it’s a relationship with a person who is constantly asking questions like “what does it all mean?” and “have we explored every possible angle of this to its fullest possible extent?” Nothing is straight forward with me. I’m opinionated and I can be argumentative. Sometimes I overcommunicate and other times I’m out of touch with my emotional experience and surround myself with 50 foot, impenetrable walls. If those things don’t pose enough obstacles, my faith is such a large and crucial part of me, I don’t have the ability to separate it from my romantic experiences, which weeds out a large majority of men. None of these things are changing any time soon either. Even if they could, I’m not sure I would want all of them to.

There has to be a balance between believing I have to change myself entirely in order to find love and being so stubborn that I stay stuck, tucked away in my fortress, using all my faculties to try and make sure I never get hurt. My relationship status is neither my badge of honor, nor my source of shame, but I am also not deluded enough to think it is a sign of health either. While I am really, genuinely enjoying being single (you can read about that here), I am also rigidly refusing to implement some of the strategies it would take to be fully whole and healthy regardless of whether I want to go on to live my best life single or partnered. I can’t keep choosing the safest adventure. It’s time to flirt knowing I could be rejected, accept compliments and dates from people who show true (not sleazy) interest and stop wasting my time on people who don’t. No more pseudo-relationships with men who think it’s kind of nice having a woman hanging around who makes them feel good, but have no intention of pursuing that woman for real.

Ok, so I have resolved to do some work on myself. So that’s a start… Now, the only problem is I’m still really, terribly, pathetically bad at boys. 😉

What’s Your Number?

 &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;  The Enneagram with Riso-Hudson Type Names

There I was, in the midst of an argument, with yet another person I cared about, and despite the hurt and pain I was trying to express, the message that was being sent back to me was one I had heard over and over again.

The verdict is in and let’s just say that I’m A LOT. There aren’t many other ways to word it. I’ve been described as difficult, judgmental, bossy, argumentative, and every other variation of intense you can think of my whole entire life. I’ve been told that I’m fun to mess with because of how large my reactions are and fascinating to watch because of how expressive I am. I’ve written about this in a general sense before as well as in relation to being a woman, but it wasn’t until the past few months that I have gained a bit more perspective through a tool called the Enneagram.

Moving through much of my young life, I did not perceive myself as intense. I was just me. When people used this word to describe me, not only did it hurt, I couldn’t understand it. If anything, I thought what I was experiencing was normal and the rest of the world seemed muted somehow. As I got older, I began to understand that, yes, given all the feedback I was receiving, I must be intense. But with that acceptance of my intensity, came the belief that it was bad in some way. I thought I had to find my remote and figure out a way to mute things as well. I thought my intensity meant I couldn’t be a good woman, a good friend, a good daughter, a good sister, a good colleague. More than that, I feared it meant I would never be a good wife, a good mother. Being me caused arguments, it hurt people, it overwhelmed people. I began to consider my personality a major character flaw, and beyond that, a barrier between me and the things I wanted in life.

Then a few years ago, I heard about this tool called the Enneagram. I did not pay much attention to it and then a few more years past before I ever explored it again. When I did, I explored it superficially. That’s when I convinced myself I was a 2. For those of you who don’t know the language of the Enneagram, being a 2 means you are nurturing and always ready and willing to help and serve others. I thought this was a perfect fit. I had been a special education teacher and therapist for goodness sake! How much more nurturing can you get?! That’s when people who were more familiar with the Enneagram stepped in and told me there was simply no way I was a 2. And why was that exactly? You guessed it… Most of the explanations boiled down to the fact that I was far too intense. So what did I do? I grounded in my heels and insisted I was a 2. That is, until a friend gifted me the test and I got a very different result, one that essentially all of my friends who knew anything about the Enneagram had predicted. I was an 8, the powerful, confrontational type.

So, basically, I was being told something I had been told my whole entire life. The only thing was, this time it was different. This time the words that had been used against me, weren’t being used as insults. I wasn’t being told to abandon my tendencies in order to change into somebody different altogether. Also, the more I read, the more it became clear that my experiences were shared with others. No longer some random person thrown out there with a set of unfortunate traits, forced to figure things out on her own, I had a point of reference… A way to grow that didn’t require I become someone else, but instead opened the door to become a better version of myself, closer to the person I was made to be. What opened my eyes even more, was learning that life for females of my type can have some additional challenges as some of the traits we exhibit are viewed by our culture as more valuable in men and more often inconvenient or inappropriate in women. I was seeing both my flaws and my gifts in a new light and it was beautiful.

In this season of life, the Enneagram is a way by which I am growing in my understanding of who I am, learning to love myself, and seeking opportunities to grow. If you are feeling in a rut, maybe it could be that for you, too (you can take the $10 test here: https://www.wepss.com/buy.asp). But this post isn’t an ad for the Enneagram, so if that’s not how you decide to go about your exploration, that’s fine, too. I think the bigger lesson to be explored is how can you learn to listen well to the feedback people are giving you that will help you grow, while weeding out the feedback that is used to hurt you and tear you down? How can you better understand yourself as a way to become more and more like the person you were born to be? What will it take for you to get to the place where you see that everything you always thought was wrong about you can be redeemed, purified in the most magnificent ways that leaves you wholly you and yet somehow beautifully transformed?

I’m never not going to be a lot to handle. All that I am will still overwhelm people. Just this week a friend told me she could never date someone like me because her head would explode. We both laughed, because she’s not wrong, and she said it in love. I can be just a tad much. I will probably still steamroll people sometimes and have to apologize for hurt feelings. In fact, it hardly seems a week can go by where I don’t ruffle somebody’s feathers. It would actually benefit me to turn the volume down just a little bit every once in a while. Not every situation requires a megaphone. These realizations don’t feel like attacks anymore though. I am intense, but I don’t know who I would be if I wasn’t. The other great thing about having a really strong personality, is you always know who really loves you because those who don’t love you think you are way too much to stick around. While I have been coming to pieces of these realizations for a long time now, it feels far less superficial this time around. I finally feel ready get deep down below the surface and clean out some of those crevices I’ve long been running away from. The Enneagram has been a gift to me and I hope if you haven’t already, you find such a unique gift of self-exploration sometime soon, too.

Recommended Books (The Road Back to You & The Path Between Us)

Hopes For a Future Mother’s Day

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In recent years, there’s been a beautiful, growing recognition of the challenges and hurts that are so deeply mixed up in the blessings of Mother’s Day. Many have lost their mothers, some didn’t have a nurturing mother to begin with, others are estranged from mothers or children, even more long to be mothers, but circumstances have prevented it. Not everyone gets to have a celebratory Mother’s Day and while on our good days, we are happy for those who do, for many the tenor of Mother’s Day is lament, not joyfulness. For me, there’s not necessarily a tragedy associated with Mother’s Day. At this season in my life, I don’t long to be a mother and my relationship with my mother is marked foremost by love.

These stories of heartache and sadness aren’t yet mine to tell. As always, I do have a story of my own though.

It was about 10 years ago that I got the news. I was told I had PCOS, a cluster of health issues that among other things, might some day make it difficult for me to have children. For me, there was somewhat of a sigh of relief. It explained why my acne had always been so bad no matter what the dermatologist prescribed me to treat it, it gave me at least one reason for why despite being incredibly active and eating healthy, hitting my goal weight or size would likely never be a reality, and finally what I didn’t yet know was it would make sense of why I started losing my hair a few years later. Also, I was one of the lucky ones… I had a doctor who listened well when I told her about what was going on with me and figured out what the issue was. Everyone else I had known or read about on the internet hadn’t found out until after experiencing sometimes years of unsuccessful attempts to have children. Plus, having children was irrelevant to me at that time. I was 21 and wasn’t thinking too much about it and I felt confident by the time I was ready there would be some sort of medical advances and maybe it would be a moot point.

Several years into the journey, I was in a friend’s wedding and the woman who was doing my make-up and I began talking. I was telling her I wanted very full coverage to make sure no one would see the blemishes and scars on my face. She shared with me her struggle with acne and her recent discovery that she had, you guessed it, PCOS. Of course in return for her vulnerability, I told her about my experience as well. She told me how scared she was. She wasn’t in any rush to have children, but she wondered if she should try and make it happen before her chances got worse. She asked me, having known for so much longer than she had, how I dealt with the fear. Optimistically, I shared my confidence that doctors couldn’t predict whether or not we would have children from this one feature alone, that we couldn’t increase the likelihood of having children by worrying about it, and that if we weren’t ready to have children, we should enjoy this time without children and simply cross that bridge if and when we came to it. With more years having passed now, I think about how flippant and lacking compassion my answer must have seemed. Despite her being younger than me and her diagnosis being newer, she had somehow managed to work through the denial and into the reality of the situation faster than I had. While I don’t think my energy would have been better spent worrying about something I could not and still cannot predict, I could have made some lifestyle changes that I have made in recent years (with great results, I might add) much sooner. As it turns out, a decade into the journey, virtually no medical advances have been made and most doctors still have no clue what PCOS is (check out this super science-y, but fascinating article if you want to know more: Why Doctors Don’t Understand PCOS).

So why am I sharing this now? A piece of me just feels like it is time. First, it feels like time from a cultural standpoint. We do not put nearly enough money or research into women’s health in our country. With a maternal death rate in the U.S. that is rapidly increasing and the highest of all developed countries and women who are far more susceptible to poverty, and therefore, far more likely to have a host of medical issues and lack of healthcare, I do think the implications of this gap are endless and the need to take action is imperative. However, it also feels like time from a personal perspective. I’ve felt so much shame for so long about my face and my hair. Honestly, some days I still feel a lot of shame. I cover up with make-up and head wraps and I dodge questions about my change in diet, as if I somehow brought this fate upon myself. I sit with my students and I tell them that those who really love them will see past the superficial to what’s inside while covertly doubting if others can see past my flaws. I comfort others as they give voice to the fear of if they will ever have children, while shrouding my own fears in secrecy.

Words cannot express enough how thankful I am to not have children this Mother’s Day. But to say I’m not fearful that I’ll never be wished a “Happy Mother’s Day” would be a lie. This is the first Mother’s Day when false optimism or secrecy and shame hasn’t worked for me, and I’m guessing that could be a sign of growth. There’s no point in worrying about a future I can’t control, but I don’t think there is a point in living in hiding or denial either. I’m naming the future I hope for and the fear that comes with it and that makes this feel like my most optimistic Mother’s Day in a long time.