Better

“Dootsie,” she sighed. “I’m 26.”

I shrugged. I’d come to terms with my quarter-life crisis already. I knew where her mental spiral was headed.

She looked flustered. She wondered aloud if she was doing it right, if she was successful enough, if she was doing okay. She reasoned that she was doing far “better” than most of her family and certainly worlds better than anyone ever expected of her.

I’d already decided a long time ago that success is completely relative. Was I where my mother hoped I’d be by now? No, but I realized that I probably wouldn’t get there by fifty, so who cares? Was I doing better than I imagined as a kid? Even in my wildest dreams as a child, my life mysteriously blinked out of existence at 21—so yeah, I’d say so. Was I doing better than my peers? Some yes, some no.

What the does “better” even entail?

It’s one of those things that you know it when you see it, but asked to define it, you’re stumped. I couldn’t put my finger on better, but I know when I feel it. Ask me to find better in a mall and I probably could, but ask me to find it in my life and I might flounder.

I feel like a jerk when I compare my life apples-to-apples with someone else’s. I do it sometimes and I remind myself of how little I need and how little I am in need. I immediately feel guilty for positioning the state of my life above someone else’s, though. Sometimes, I compare my life to someone else’s and end up feeling hollow, jealous, bitter or frustrated. I feel like I no longer understand my values and doubt my own contentment.

Better For Me is a concept I’ve had to invent for myself. Ultimately, the life I live should make me as happy as possible, should be in agreement with my values and should be 100%, authentically my own. I shouldn’t work to suit anyone else’s notion of better: I should make choices that are Better For Me, my needs and my goals.

I can’t hold anyone else to the Better For Me standard because it’s my own, specific to my own circumstances and priorities—theirs are different, and they can keep ‘em. When someone tries to hold me to their standard, I can shake it off with confidence because I’ve made the conscious choice to exclude their values from my consideration. (Which I realize may sound harsh, but usually when someone wants to bug me about my life, it’s because they’re valuing Appearances, Possessions, Career or Tradition much differently than me.)

Better For Me isn’t necessarily about avoiding doing “worse”, either. If my life veers away from the ideal, I’m not doing life wrong. I’m allowed to have difficulties because life is difficult. So long as I am certain that I am doing the best I can at making Better For Me choices, I am not failing. While this doesn’t (and couldn’t!) free me from worry, it does free me from second-guessing myself.

My roommate shifted her weight to one foot and her eyes flicked away from nothing to land squarely on mine. I recognized the conflict in her eyes. With a little uncertainty in her voice, she asked, “Are we doing okay?”

I laughed. “Better than okay.”

Love

I forget, sometimes, how much I am in it.

He has a way of reminding me, of bringing its magnitude to the front and center of my awareness.  He brings out my gratitude, my awe, my sheepish grins.

Baby Crazy

It hits me sometimes.  In those quiet moments when it’s just me and my womb, when I’m watching a very special episode of the latest TV show to jump the shark, when I see the perfect little tot acting perfectly perfect…

I want a baby.

I don’t particularly like children.  I find them more than moderately disgusting at times, little beasts crawling with fecal germs and mucus.  They poop and puke and snot and scream.  And worst of all, it’s all somehow a reflection on your own successes and failures, like you’re controlling their every bodily function or emotional breakdown.

But there are moments.  Those quick flashes of estrogen that leave me glowing with the thought of being a mother.  With the thought of creating life, with the thought of building a life-long bond with someone I’ve brought into this world and helped mold as a person.  With the thought of all the wonderful milestones and joys.

But then I think about the other things.  The dark places in my mind that haunt me every time I consider a huge life change.  The big, scary “What if”.

My own childhood wasn’t perfect, and I don’t feel like an ideal motherhood candidate.  My reactions to stress are scary.  I know, because I learned them from my mother when I was a child.  I watched her wear her anger, her disappointment, her stress.  She lashed out at herself, biting her arms and weeping.  Her whole face would contort with annoyance and the overwhelming burden of dealing with two demanding children when she could barely deal with herself.  And for some reason, it came down to me to comfort her.  I felt responsible for making her happy again.  I still do.

I watched my parents fight.  Not much, but enough.  Having kids made them crazy, made them unhappy, made them not like each other sometimes.  I’m sure they wouldn’t trade the experience for the world, but there are times I quietly wished I had never existed, just so they could be happy.

I don’t want to give that to my children.

I know that there’s something in me that remembers these things more heavily than the happy times.  I know that it’s always been in me to feel responsible.  I know that I had a happy childhood, but I simply can’t shake the times that were less fun.  We went on trips, we played under the water sprinkler, we had toys, we laughed a lot.

So I continue to sit on the fence.  Part of me is just waiting for my body to take over, to tell my head to shut up, that it’s time to make babies.  Part of me hopes that I simply pass into menopause and never think twice about what might’ve been.  Part of me knows that someday, I’ll have to choose.

I just have to learn to trust myself.

What I Want

A friend’s Facebook post spurred me to consider what it is in life that a WANT.  Aside from summer nights filled with fireflies and the occasional ice cream sandwich, what is it that I want from my life?

  1. I want to have a home where friends can pop over any time.  I want to live in the sort of place that everyone wants to hang out in because it’s so relaxing and lovely.  I want to be a hostess.  Because
  2. I want to have the sort of friends who want to pop over.  And I want to be the sort of friend who can maintain pop-over relationships.
  3. I want to be in love.  Not just with my significant other, but with so many aspects of my life that I simply get overwhelmed sometimes with gratitude and happiness.
  4. I want to be a wonderful partner.  I want to maintain a loving relationship that is balanced, fair and free of unrealistic expectations.  I want to give.
  5. I want to grow vegetables.  Maybe some fruits.
  6. I want to laugh as freely and as often as I already do for the rest of my life.
  7. I want to forgive myself for how I reacted to the things that happened to me, for the things that I’ve done and for the things that I tolerated others doing to me.  I want to forgive them, too.
  8. I want to apologize less.
  9. I want to offer gratitude more.
  10. I want to look back on today and be glad that things happened exactly as they did because I’ve learned something from it and made all the best choices I could’ve made at the time.

On the Right Time to Get Married

I read a post on Offbeat Bride about the magical “right time” to get married and all the pressure and want to do it on a certain timeline.  It really struck a chord with me.

I’d lived with the deep-seeded need to get engaged right now, to get married right now.  I’d felt it so strongly, and I’d operated under the assumption that it was the impulse to follow.

So we got engaged.  And when it finally happened, after 6 years of being together, it became the catalyst for the end of our relationship.

In picking up the pieces and surveying the nebulous cloud of “what happened”, I learned a lot that I simply hadn’t been able to see at the time.  I’d been pushing for right now since we started dating–it’s how we started dating!  I’d been making the goals, making the demands and making the decisions.

I realized that all along, I had needed to feel that push of right now for myself.  For my own life.  For goals for myself.

Because I didn’t.  I never had.  I was filling my life with propelling the relationship forward so that I could cover up the fact that I wasn’t passionate about my own life, decisions or desires.  I was creating relationship goals because they were clear, definite and easy.  Charting a course for my relationship had a society-dictated trajectory and by fulfilling those relationship expectations, there was no way I could fail in my goals.  I could land an engagement, I could demand a wedding and I could then be a wife.  Those are things I could do, and they were within reach.  By dragging him along, I was in some way helping us both move forward as adults in my mind.

This is not to say that my love was a sham or some sort of twelve step program into Stepfordhood.  I was really in love with him, but I was ignoring myself and my own life.

Somehow in our engagement, I slowly became aware that I was stagnant as a person and I was dragging him down with me.  I was terrified of real responsibility, but I was tired of pushing him toward it.  So I ended our engagement and our relationship.

It was the right time.