Respect

I used to have this stepdad. He was ex-military and still looked the part: close-cut hair, bald eagle tattoo on his calf, and preferred to wear his correctional officer uniform even after he left the prison for the day. If not for his rounded, aging face and worsening posture, you’d think he just got back from basic training. He wanted to treat my brother and I like we were part of some sort of boot camp where periodic, unannounced room checks were the most annoying part of this weird role playing. And he liked to talk about “respect.” How he just wanted to earn our respect, how we were always disrespectful to him, how he respects us and our space but he just wanted the same respect in return.

And it was always bullshit. My brother and I talked back to this stepdad a lot, that much is true. But we were teenagers and we already had a dad who didn’t try to treat us like recruits so I’m not sure what this stepdad expected. My brother and I did not appreciate him coming into our lives and trying to change our routines, our lifestyle, our relationships. So we made that known to him, and he found it “disrespectful.”

This stepdad never actually did anything to earn our respect. He only tried to bribe us or win us over – and he failed. He would let us have something that mom wouldn’t, maybe, but then “our little secret” became a twisted form of double-sided blackmail. He tried to teach me how to drive, I think. He let me drive his truck on back roads before I had my permit. Unfortunately for him I’d been doing that with my actual dad since I was probably 10 or 11. I wasn’t impressed.

These things were supposed to make us like him, but they never worked and definitely didn’t make us respect him. If anything, we respected him less for trying to earn our trust in cheap, cliche, stereotypical stepdad ways. He didn’t respect us or our intelligence enough to understand that we knew what he was doing. Not only did we know what he was doing and why, but we exploited it as teenagers (especially those with divorced parents) tend to do. So when he yelled and screamed about how disrespectful we were, my brother and I just laughed and lost even more respect for him.

Long after this stepdad has gone from my life, I still have little respect for people who demand respect without earning it. Respect isn’t something you can just demand, like a child with a temper tantrum. Respect is earned, not handed out. Just because you got a promotion, just because you’re older than me, just because my mom decided to marry you – these things don’t mean I’m automatically going to give my respect. I might be polite, but respect takes time. And the more you demand undeserving respect the less polite I will become.

Impress me, and I’ll respect you. Help me when I need it; do something I can’t. Make possible the impossible. Give me your respect. You can’t treat me like some sort of object or inferior being and in the same breath whine about my lack of respect. Learn some manners. I can respect manners.

If you’re my “superior” that’s so deserving of respect, then why don’t you help me and answer my questions when I have them? The people I respect the most are the restaurant managers that help bus tables, or the prestigious university professor that’s willing to individually tutor a struggling student. The people who are willing to help people below them, even if it isn’t their job. Just because they know what’s needed, and they know what it’s like. The ones to get to the top just to be lazy and yell at other people to do their job? They’re the worst kind of people. I won’t respect those people.

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The Mystery of the Disappearing Friends

I don’t even know if I can explain how I feel. Not betrayed, maybe abandoned? Even if this is a normal thing, do I have a right to feel like this? It feels like they broke up with me but never bothered to tell me.

We used to talk every day, and now barely once a week. It’s like I’m the immature child who’s friends all grew up and got married and moved away. Except many of them don’t live too far and they aren’t married yet. Just in very intense (and apparently time consuming) relationships.

Maybe I feel replaced more than abandoned. Was I replaced? Am I that easy to replace? Am I being too insecure about the whole thing? Will it ever get better? Or worse: will I lose touch even more? And then we’ll devolve from finishing each other’s sentences to that awkward form of acquaintance-ness where we can only manage barely more than small talk. Or we can only relive old memories, but are incapable of creating new ones.

It hurts, whatever it is. I feel…hurt. I’ve lost good friends to siginificant others more than I care to admit and I long time ago I swore I’d never do it to any of my friends. So why do they keep doing it to me?

Am I being selfish? I’m happy for them, of course. Not that they’d know it, or anything else about me. But I still am, regardless. But why can’t they be happy and in love and all these things and still be friends with me?

Am I unknowingly doing this to some of my own friends? I’m sure I have before, even though I swore not to do so. It could still be happening. I wish someone would tell me if it was.

Will it keep happening; will it get worse? Will I slowly lose all my friends to marriage or love or babies? Will I have to make new friends? Geographically closer, similar life situation friends?

But I liked my friends, the ones I had before we all grew up.

This doesn’t seem fair.

I’ve never been here before

You keep reminding me that I’ve been here before. Like some sort of Captain of the Relationships, it’s my job to guide you through this. To tell you what and what not to do along the way, to give you the next steps.

The truth is, I’m just as lost as you.

Yes, I’ve been in long term relationships. I’ve been in love before. I’ve even considered a future with another person, however short term or ridiculous that future might have been. But I still haven’t been here.

Being here with you is new to me. Here means something different this time. You’re different from what I’m used to.

With you I feel free, and I’ve never quite felt that way with another person the way I do with you. There’s always been this burden or barrier in other relationships. But with you I don’t have to keep you a secret or keep any from you. I can see you every single day if I really wanted to. I can say anything, do anything.

Maybe it’s because I feel so free or maybe just because of you, but I’m happier with you than I’ve ever been. I’ve been happy before, don’t get me wrong, but never this consistently or for this long. There’s no shadows with you; everything lives under the sun. There’s nothing to hide from or be afraid of, since you probably already know all the worst things about me. I can just be impossibly happy – free from worry or doubt.

Being so happy is strange for me. It makes me do things I’ve never done before – like when I told you I loved you. I’ve never said ‘I love you’ to anyone first; I always waited for the other person to say it. Or they said ‘I love you’ and I said it back without knowing if I meant it or not. With you, I thought about it for weeks (maybe months) before I said it. I almost slipped so many times. I only wish I had said it a little closer to sober, but who knows if I ever would have said it without liquid courage.

Despite all of this, it still feels easy. Like we barely have to try. We misstep sometimes but we just correct each other and move on like we’ve been doing it forever. We handle deep dark secrets and deal-breakers as they come up, without making a big deal about it. Who says every important conversation has to start with “we need to talk”? We just drunkenly blurt out what needs to be said and the important things are heard and remembered the next morning. We tell each other what we need, in a language that would be considered blunt and rude and obscene by anyone else. But I’ve finally found someone who understands my tendency to be too reserved and too harsh at the same time and it just works for us. I don’t think I’ve ever once truly offended you and I don’t think I’ve been able to say that about anyone else.

I guess I don’t know where I was trying to go with this. I just wanted you to know that this is new for me, too. But I’m not scared anymore. I’m ready for whatever the next steps are, even if those steps are still unknown.

homecoming

A couple weekends ago I went to my alma mater’s homecoming. The air was cold but the sun was warm, and all the right people were there. The game was so lopsided (in our favor) I only stayed for half.

The food was good, the drinks even better, and it turns out I missed some people I never thought I would. I saw most of the people I expected to – the types that never leave. There was one or two people in particular I wanted to run into, but didn’t think I would. I know them and enjoyed my time with them in school, but we were never very close so we didn’t keep in touch very often.

One of these people – let’s call him Andy – did happen to be at the bar I went to. He was a friend of a friend that I had a few classes with senior year and I always loved hanging out with him. We did the usual “where are you now/how’s the job” bullshit type of conversation that you’re supposed to have. To everyone who had asked me this, I didn’t even try to mask that I wasn’t overly happy at my current job. When I expressed this to Andy, he said something to the effect of:

You’re too smart for that! I found a job I like, you just have to keep looking and keep networking. You’re so much smarter than me and you deserve to do something you love.

This was followed by the usual “I love you/I miss you” drunken conversation, but those words stuck with me. “You’re so much smarter than me, you deserve better”.

Andy is someone I barely know, who barely knows me! Yet, he knows and believes I deserve better (and he already has a girlfriend so it wasn’t like he had ulterior motives). Maybe I’m reading too far into a slightly drunken encounter, but how does this acquaintance of mine have more confidence in me than I do? I think that was the part that stuck with me more than the words themselves. If certain friends of mine had said this, I would have brushed it off as “oh they’re just being nice”. But because we don’t stay in touch, because we barely know each other, that somehow made what he said mean more.

On that note, I started applying for jobs again. I also turned down my first ever interview this week, because it would have been another job where I’d be unhappy in six months or less.

Finally, I got someone’s attention with some old writing samples. I’ll hear back next week if I get to interview with this tech company in a tiny nearby suburb I adore. The fact that it’s a tech company is terrifying, considering I don’t understand half of what their website says, but I’m excited about the fact that I would get to work on things I enjoy. Or at the very least, I could expand my knowledge and actually gain valuable skills – as opposed to what I’m doing now.

If someone I barely know has faith in me, at the very least I should have some faith in me.

After living here for a year, I’m finally starting to explore my city. Since I’m not good at making friends, I’m just doing it solo. Why wait for someone to go with? I’m a perfectly capable adult who can totally do things on my own!

I’ve already mentioned my first solo bar trip, but before that I went to the art museum and wandered around that part of the city for awhile. It was a gorgeous day and everything about it was perfect. I didn’t even go through the entire museum because there was just too much to see! Last weekend, I went back to the art museum and tried to go see an exhibit but it was sold out, so I ended up at the local historical museum across the street. The city’s historical museum is also free, but not as cool as the art museum would have been. Still, I learned a couple of cool things about my city. Who knew there was a surprising amount of culture that came from – and was impacted by – this decaying mess!?

Now that I’ve done this a few times, going out on my own is not a big deal to me anymore. And why should it be anyway? I’m introverted, independent, and self-sufficient; thus, I’m more than okay doing a lot of things by myself. I probably wouldn’t go to, say, a sporting event by myself, but I’m cool with wandering around and doing things where I don’t need to talk to people anyway.

However, I made the mistake of mentioning my solo fun to my coworkers. Most of them are married. Or they’ve lived in the area their whole life, so all their friends are here. Or they have kids. Or the most excitement they get is refinancing their mortgage. Maybe all of the above. So when I said I went to the art museum by myself, some of them didn’t believe me. The rest make fun of me for it whenever possible.

Now, I’m not the sensitive type. I can take a joke. I’m usually “that girl” that is just the natural target for getting made fun of. And I welcome it; I always have a good comeback because that’s how I was raised. But their comments about me going to the museum by myself actually stung this time. In front of my coworkers, I laughed it off. In reality, I was angry at them! Who are they to tell me what’s strange? I’m single and alone up here – does that mean I have to stay home every weekend? Do I have to go out on stupid, awkward, uncomfortable dates just so I can leave my house? You with the kids – you don’t crave some alone time now and then? You with the husband – don’t you go shopping by yourself almost every day? You, that just bought a house – don’t you go to lunch by yourself at least once a week? How is this any different?

What I got from this experience is that there are socially acceptable solo activities, like grocery shopping, and there are socially unacceptable solo activities. Apparently fun things do not fit into that first list. I think that’s ridiculous. So while I’m still annoyed by their jests, I’m not going to stop doing these things. I’m just not going to tell them about it anymore. Which, given how prying and nosy these people can be, I shouldn’t tell them anything anyway.

If you were wondering what the downside to moving to a new city and living alone is? I wouldn’t say this is it. Go out, do things on your own. Just be prepared for people to question it. And ignore them. They wish they had the confidence to do the same.

First time for everything

I remember saying to my friends when we first graduated college, “Well, my dad made friends by just going to the same bar enough times, so…maybe that’s how adults make friends.”

Yet, it took me a year to go to a bar by myself.

Monday, the USWNT played their second round game against Colombia. I found out that the limited cable I have didnt have the channel the game was on, so I texted the few people I knew in the area, with no luck. I really wanted to see the game, so I decided to go to a bar, by myself, to watch it.

Honestly, it was sort of great.

I did text a lot of people during this process. Both for typical important game reasons –  OMG did you see that penalty? what BS! – but also to feel less alone. But once I got there, I wanted them to stop texting me. The game was exciting, the bartender was friendly… I didn’t need these remote access friends. While I didn’t meet anyone new, the atmosphere and people watching were enough to keep me company. I even tried 3 new beers! And they were all great!

Yeah, it was uncomfortable at first. and yes, this experience was helped by a good bar with a good bartender and an excellent beer selection. But either way, I highly recommend.

Life Advisor?

What’s the adult, real-life version of an academic advisor? Ya know, the person who tells you that you’re doing awesome, and then tells you exactly what classes to take next semester? They look at your resume, and tell you you’re awesome, but give you small tweaks to make your resume reflect that awesomeness, and make you seem even more awesome? Is there a life advisor somewhere I’m not aware of?

About a year ago, when I was sitting through Alumni Days – listening to successful, graduated alumni talk about life after college – one of them said something that just recently sort of hit me.

There are no semesters, no constant evaluation in life. There’s nothing, and I mean nothing to break up the monotony. In college – while it could be brutal – there were breaks. There were finals (brutal) but then you were done, and then you went to new classes with new people and new professors and new topics. Now, there are intense deadlines (brutal) but no breaks, and on Monday I return to the same tasks, with the same people, working on the same project. Nothing actually changes, nothing moves forward…

In college, once you pass XYZ1000, you move on to XYZ2000. You fail that class? Oh it’s cool, just take it again.

In life, you manage to complete something, and then you have to do that thing again. And again. And again. Maybe some small things are different, maybe after a year (or several…usually several) maybe, maybe, you get promoted and get to make more money to do those things. But fuck something up? You could get fired. You don’t get to try it again.

Essentially, the consequences for fucking up are greater, but the rewards are lesser. And there are no life advisors to tell you you’re awesome, or which projects to take on, or what the hell to do about your resume. Instead, the other adults just… let you flail around out there, watching you squirm. They probably enjoy it, too. Buncha jerks.