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


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.


2 Years Max…

As I’ve shared many times, I was an anxious kid and continue to deal with quite a bit of anxiety. As I am getting older, I am coming to terms with different aspects of my anxiety and where it comes from. Recently, I have noticed that my anxiety and my identity might be more intertwined than I previously realized.

This month marks 2 years I have been living in my apartment. While to most my age, this would seem a rather ordinary landmark, for me it is somewhat of a feat. I haven’t been able to sit this long before. Since I graduated from college, I have lived in 3 different cities, rented 5 different apartments, and held 5 different jobs. In fact, other than school, I have shown a complete inability to sustain any aspect of life for even 2 years… not a goal, not a career path, and certainly not a meaningful relationship. While hitting this 2 year mark seems that it would indicate growth, rooted-ness, or even increased contentment, instead it is riddled with anxiety and unrest. And here’s why…

I’ve never been truly comfortable anywhere or with anyone. I used to think this meant there was something wrong with me, but as I dig deeper, I am learning there is something entirely different going on here. When I walk into a space, I never know what I am going to get. As a kid, other kids might insist I was adopted because I looked so differently from my mother, call me Brillo head or state I had pubic hair on my head because I had a fro, or children and adults alike would just blatantly stare. In college, it was hearing racial slurs because I was in the presence of people who didn’t know I was half black and constantly explaining my racial make-up. Then in adulthood, it’s people still attempting to ignore my blackness and/or whiteness to make themselves feel more comfortable, not include me because I don’t look quite right or get all the pop culture references, or include me because then they get to up their diversity quotient. In fact, it is so tiring, that I can’t believe I am just now realizing how stressful it is to not be able to walk into a job, or a church, or a store, or wherever it is you want to go without someone touching your hair without permission, making an ignorant comment that directly impacts you, or just downright making you feel like you don’t belong.

Believe me, I get it, my fair skin and mixed identity come with SO many privileges, beyond that I have the privilege of having both an undergraduate and graduate degree, excellent health, no disabilities, and the list goes on and on. I’m not afraid to own that. But… what I am coming to terms with as well is that I am not afraid to own that most of the time, in fact all of the time, I feel uncomfortable. Not with myself (though for a very long time that was the case) and who I was created to be, but more so the world and whether or not it has the capacity to receive me. I’ve reached a decision. It doesn’t… and I don’t have a clue as to what to do about it. Now, as evidence of that, here is the time when people chime in, “you do belong!” Except for the older I get I don’t know what’s worse, the people I don’t know being unbelievably hurtful or the people I do know and love making me feel crazy for sharing what has been true time and time again about my experience. Whether it is friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances, people are so uncomfortable with me being uncomfortable that they engage in tactics that make things even more uncomfortable for me just to ease a little of their discomfort. It is so confusing to be a little kid who is constantly being told you are “just like the rest of us” when all the while how you are being treated could not be farther from “the rest.”

All that to say, I don’t think the answer is moving and changing jobs every year and a half. I also don’t think the answer is holding people at arms length as I have often done. I do think sometimes the answer is saying “no” more boldly to situations in which I already have some awareness that I will not be received well. The answer can also be honesty when I’ve been hurt and refusing to be gas-lighted when I genuinely express that hurt. Part of the answer is certainly continuing to celebrate myself and fully enjoy and honor mixed-race spaces whenever I have the chance to be in them, regardless of how infrequent that may be.

I wish I could provide a happier ending. I wish I could be oblivious enough to think that there are more mixed people now and the world is becoming more welcoming of us. I especially wish I could believe that children of mixed-heritage were born into families that love and accept all angles of them and are leeched of all racist tendencies upon first glimpse of the beautiful child. I’ve lived too much of this uncomfortable life to buy into any of those fantasies. This, however, I do know to be true… discomfort will not kill you and it certainly can’t rob you of the joy of moving forward, that is if you don’t let it.

Cheers to the 2 year mark.

How Are My Boundaries?

My senior year of college there was this “25 Things List” fad that was going around Facebook. You were supposed to write some things that were true of you and then challenge friends to do the same. Number 24 on my list read:

“I have an INCREDIBLY difficult time letting go of those I love. My relationships mean more to me than just about anything. Basically, I will drop everything in order to help a friend who needs me. I never forget about people or how it felt to be close to them. I think someday this will lead to my downfall…”

Apparently, I was reasonably self-aware in college, because this statement continues to prove true in my life. I’m loyal to a fault and it has become a big problem.

In the past 8 or so years, people I cared about truly have been my downfall. I don’t know when it started, but at some point in my life I began building the people I really loved and respected these pedestals. In my mind, the pedestals (and people) were nice and shiny and high. It felt good to show them off to others, to look up at them beaming at my good fortune. How wonderful it was to have been honored to know so many perfect people. The problem with this, however, is there are no perfect people and people rarely if ever stay up on their shiny pedestals. Sometimes they choose to come down, sometimes it shatters beneath them, always I’m left with disappointment.

So there can be a few really big problems with loyalty. The first is that not everyone is worth being totally loyal to. I’ve let many people use and abuse me over the years whilst I made excuses and buffed up their pedestals to the best of my ability. People might warn me of the unhealthy patterns I’d fallen into or the poor boundaries I was engaging in, but I’d convince myself that everything was ok. I thought I just needed to support these people a little longer, defend them a little harder, correct them a little more, hide the ways they’d done wrong from more people. Of course, this never worked and then the guilt disguised as “loyalty” would start. If only I’d said or done something differently, maybe their behavior would have changed, maybe, just maybe, they would have become worthy of the pedestal once again.

Another problem with loyalty is it only works if you are being loyal to something real and not a figment of your imagination… and as it turns out, I’ve had a wild imagination over the years. I’ve created these people in my mind that will never hurt me, that won’t let me down, and that will never fall from grace. This makes me sad for a couple of reasons when I look back. One, it means I may never have gotten the chance to know who these people really were, and two, it means I spent a whole lot of time and energy worrying about trying to be worthy of something (or someone rather) that didn’t even exist. You see, if in your mind, you know someone who is the prettiest person, the coolest person, the funniest person, and that person isn’t you, you will never measure up. So as it turns out you are never good enough for you and when everybody comes crashing down off their pedestals, no one else is good enough for you either.

I wish so much that I hadn’t taken so long to stop putting others and myself in these impossible positions. Perhaps if I’d started breaking down these pedestals of co-dependence long ago and instead started building some healthy boundaries, I wouldn’t be here learning the same hard lesson in yet another set of important relationships. I’m encouraged though. I suppose some people never notice or acknowledge their patterns and attempt to move away from them. I suppose I’m happy I’m 29 rather than 99 when God is lovingly moving me into a place where I have to finally learn this lesson. Plus, the fabulous truth is, the more I stop trying to control other people, the less the disappointment is able to control me.

Do you have to go?

Melissa Hug

There is a Frederick Buechner quote I love (funny, I included a Buechner quote in my last post): You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world, but a world lives in you.

It’s been four years now, but when I think about it too hard I almost experience that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach all over again. Graduating from college was hard because the place I had called home for four years that had grown and shaped me in immeasurable ways wasn’t exactly going to be my home anymore, but that was not the reason I felt like I was going to throw up. I had to say goodbye to one of the most incredible friends I had ever made. When we had met, I don’t think either of us had noticed anything particularly remarkable about the other one, but when we finally had the chance to get to know one another, our souls touched. After sharing a life-changing summer in Georgia, the ups and downs of being a college student, and supporting one another through being an RA, a semester abroad, internships, student teaching and frustrating jobs, it was hard to believe two friends could be so close.

But then it all came roaring to a premature halt. She was off to Australia to better get to know both a country and a man she had come to love and I was to remain in Chicago searching for teaching jobs.

I hate goodbyes. I’ve hated them since the day I was born and I’m sure I’ll hate them until the day I die. I wish I could keep all those I love right next to me in a designated location all working and living and growing and learning together. I wish we could all get to know each other and enjoy each other, while we swap stories and share commentary on books, music, and movies, enjoy each others’ spouses and children, eat meals together and relax after a day of work well done. But, that day four years ago is evidence I don’t live in this reality.

The people I love are scattered all over the globe. We can’t keep those we love close to us. The truth is, even when we do stay geographically close, nothing stays the same. People change. The threads that used to keep you connected loosen. We get caught up in busy schedules. New people and responsibilities are introduced to the equation and things can and never will be exactly the same.

Fortunately, I am learning that while sometimes (oftentimes even) things do get harder with goodbye, good can come from goodbye, too. It is so beautiful when you can be reunited with a friend whose path has taken them far from you, but it’s evident that they are exactly where they need to be and you can share in the joy of all that has happened in both of your lives. Then there are the incredible new friendships that can be formed when you come to terms with the reality of goodbye. If you are too fixated on the old that may already be long gone your heart will never have enough space for the sweet new relationships yet to be formed.

But I hold to the idea that even when we say goodbye there is still so much left. I’ve learned countless lessons from the people who have stepped in and out of my life. No matter how long or short they stayed, each made an impact. Every interaction, laugh, shed tear, intellectual exchange, they all mean something. They all teach us a lesson. They make us stronger. So even when I am heart-sick with a fresh goodbye still on my tongue, I can slip through the sadness with a smile, thankful for the people the Lord has been good enough to bring into my life.

I may never enjoy goodbyes, but I am not (quite as) afraid of them anymore. Though that friend still lives just as far from me as she possibly could, I feel just as close to her as ever. When we come together nothing is the same and everything is the same all at once. The feelings we feel, the prayers we pray, the words we exchange, they are all possible in part to our goodbye and for that reason, I guess I owe “goodbye” a “thank you.”

Why can’t we be friends?

Why Can't

When I was little, making friends was not always easy for me. I had my sister and my select friends that I felt comfortable with. We would play, imagine, and go on little adventures, but when I wasn’t with them, I preferred to be by myself. I would dance around pretending to be a ballerina, concoct the perfect mudpie for my imaginary cooking show, or scrape up what little make-up and nail polish I could find and envision myself as a fashionista or a superstar. The idea of meeting new people made me nervous. I was lonely sometimes, but I preferred to feel alone in my safe little world, than taking the risk of stepping out of my comfortable reality.

As I got older, things changed. In junior high, high school, and college the Lord intervened and took it upon Himself to place mentor after mentor in my path. Parents of friends, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, older students, professors, resident assistants and resident directors entered my life and changed everything. They poured into me as we laughed, served, spoke, studied, and learned together. They walked me through times both good and bad. I watched them raise their children, endure tragedy and pain with dignity, face the unexpected, and share words of wisdom. They were pouring into me over and over, sometimes without even realizing they were doing it. I knew what was happening was special, but not how special until I got a bit older and realized how difficult the gift I was given is to come by.

Twenty-somethings in Chicago are lonely. Many keep their minds off of just how lonely they are by partying every chance they get with people who barely know them, others jump from one romantic relationship to another or stay in a relationship they know isn’t right just because it is better than being alone, and still more live their lives on social media seeking out as many “likes” or “retweets” as possible by posting the funniest one-liners they are capable of or the most beautiful pictures of their most recent trips. Making friends after college is HARD and I can say that because I know. Suddenly, your friends that used to live so close by are all spread out. You work full days that leave you exhausted at the end of the day and unable to muster up the energy to get out and mingle. The fear of rejection overcomes you as you tell yourself it would be too weird or awkward to invite that person over for dinner or out for coffee. As a result, much like I did when I was a little kid, you stick to what you know and suffer the safety of loneliness rather than facing what it means to “put yourself out there.”

Though young Chicagoans are in dire need of deep friendships, I believe this void can’t even compare to the absence of inter-generational, inter-marital status, or inter-lifestage relationships. Whether you find your friends at church or work or in your apartment complex, it seems we go out of our way to keep clear of those who find themselves in a different area of life than we are in. The married with children deem the single to be too immature or clueless to ever actually be a friend and the singles accuse the married people of being too busy, arrogant, or boring to go out of their way to clear their schedules for. I get it. Chicago parents and grandparents want to use every ounce of energy they have to pour into their own children and grandchildren and Chicago singles want to spend as much of their free time as possible meeting prospective friends and significant others at the bar. It’s understandable, but are we better for it?

I think it is time for us to come clean about just how lonely we are. It may be terrifying, but we will almost certainly find we are not the only ones. If we come to terms with our sad state, maybe then we will be able to make a change. Perhaps if the 28 year-old male would humble himself enough to ask for help from the 50 year-old, he would have the necessary energy to pour more into the 22 year-old. Maybe if the the 35 year-old female took a chance and became a part of the life of the 24 year-old, she would find she got more in return than she ever imagined.

So today, let’s take a chance. Let’s talk to someone it seems we could never have anything in common with. Let’s admit our loneliness and brokenness. Let’s decide that we are better together than we could ever be apart.

How did I get here?

I have been asking myself that question a lot lately. Sometimes I ask it in disappointment as I question my calling and why nothing is going as smoothly as I wanted it to go; other times I ask it overwhelmed by the greatness of God and the work He is doing despite my shortcomings.

I was a very scared child. The list of things that terrified me was unending. It is funny looking back on it now, but at the time, there was nothing comical about always being paralyzed by the next nightmare creeping around the corner. There were times I asked my mother if adults were ever scared and more specifically if she was ever afraid of anything. She told me she wasn’t afraid of things like the monsters in her closet anymore, although every once and a while she would have a bad dream about ducks, geese, or chickens due to her fear of birds. Now, she feared the less tangible things like the loss of financial stability or the safety of her children. My young mind couldn’t understand how those were legitimate fears. The walking baby-spider-head from Toy Story and images I had painted in my mind of the boy from Where the Red Fern Grows falling on his axe seemed far scarier than the things my mother had described. I was sure that age was the magical cure to my irrational fears. There would be no more sleepless nights that were only fixed by crawling into bed with someone who loved you or prayers that the daylight would stay forever because you couldn’t handle the darkness of night.

Age seemed like the magical cure to my constant anxiety. I remember what it was like to be a kid and have a clear picture in my mind of what adulthood would look like. The ability to call the shots in my own life seemed so appealing. When I had the chance to choose, I would wear whatever I wanted, dye my hair crazy colors, cake on layers of makeup, and decorate my room however I pleased. Boy, was I wrong. Now, I have an apartment I have no energy or desire to decorate, a love of tattoos, piercings, clothes, makeup, and hairstyles that don’t match my career aspirations, and a completely new set of anxieties, fears, and neuroses from those I had in childhood. I thought I would reach this point where eventually I had all the answers, but each year brings more questions than ever.

I’ve never been one to buy into the American dream, but right about now it would be easier to justify. Instead, I spend my time explaining what a resident director does, why anyone of the age of twenty-six would choose to live in a “dorm” with college students, how many more semesters it will take to finish my counseling degree, how such a “cool” girl could be single for so long, and who actually enjoys driving a Toyota Yaris. There are days I am tired and want to give in to the nagging questions, the secret longings, and the image of “togetherness” I had in my childhood, but I can’t. Something won’t let me. Something still tells me that everyday can still hold the outrageous, the extraordinary, the mystery that whispers, “Keep going. In the end it will all be worth it.” So here I am stuck in the “in-between,” caught in my own personal quarter life crisis, and I’m waiting and trusting Him as I watch how it all plays out.