Your pity doesn’t help anyone

When I was still going out on dates, I realized there were a lot of different types of people. Generally when I talk about dating, it’s insights I’ve gained about boys specifically but this particular thing struck me as something a lot of people do regardless of gender.

Family, in some capacity, usually comes up on a first date. I couldn’t say why, I guess it’s usually a safe question or topic, maybe. “Do you have any siblings?” seems to be a question I get a lot. I could answer this question a couple different ways. I  could simply say, “Yes, I have two brothers” or I could add to that and say, “Technically, I have four brothers, because I also have two stepbrothers” but between you and I, I don’t usually consider my stepbrothers to be my brothers. I didn’t grow up with them, and I rarely see or talk to them. When I was younger I used to say, “I have one and a half brothers,” but that just confused the shit out of people. So my usual response to the question ‘Do you have siblings’ is “Yes, two younger brothers, ‘E.’ is 20 and ‘B.’ is 8 years old”. That tends to confuse people, or shock them in some way so they say ‘Wow that’s a big age difference!’ I usually follow this up with, “Well, B. is technically my half brother.”

Now here is where you see the different types of people come out. Some people would have assumed B. is my half brother when I told them the ages of my brothers, because they have much younger half-siblings or they are the younger half-sibling to a much older child of their mother or father. (This being said, don’t ever assume. I know a lot of people with more than a decade between them and their closest sibling, and they aren’t half siblings. Their parents just decided to take a break before creating another human). So they understand this, but they ask about the age difference anyway to make sure they aren’t assuming. And then I tell them he’s my half brother, and they understand my parents are divorced. They don’t have to ask. They might say nothing, or they might nod and say “My parents are divorced too” and the rest of the date goes on.

The opposite end of the spectrum is people who may not know what I mean when I say ‘half-brother’ and so they need to ask “So your parents are divorced?” Or even worse I get the “So you guys have different dads?” which to me has always sounded so rude, and the fact that most people will automatically assume it’s different dads instead of different moms throws me off. I don’t know if that’s from a perception they have that kids tend to stay with the mother in a divorce, or some other assumption they have about ‘messy’ or ‘complicated’ families and divorcées. Why they even have to make the distinction at all, when I just met them, doesn’t make much sense. Most of this isn’t what bothers me. A lot of people will ask which parent my brothers and I share, especially if I show off pictures of them and a lot of people are trying to decide if we all look alike or not. Or they’ll notice my brothers look alike and I don’t necessarily look like them, even though I do share a full set of genetics with one of them.

No, what bothers me is when people ask “Your parents are divorced?” and when I say yes, they apologize. I’m sure they’re trying to be nice – but their entire face will change when they do it. It’s like I told them one of my parents died, or that they locked me in a closet under the stairs for the first ten years of my life. Most of the people who do this, are people who’s parents are still married. However, I’ve met plenty of people who’s parents are married and they can still handle this information with social grace and without that awful look of pity. But for the people who give that look when I tell them – just don’t. I don’t want it.

I still remember the first time someone apologized to me for my parents getting a divorce. It was maybe a year or two after my parents got divorced; I think I was ten. I was on the bus going home from school with the girl I rode the bus with every single day. I mentioned something about my mom’s house vs. my dad’s house, and she didn’t understand this at first. Why would my parents live in different houses? Then she got it. And she honestly reacted like someone had died, she felt so bad for me. “It must be awful, I don’t know what I would do if my parents split up,” she said. I didn’t really understand why she was so sad, why she had that look on her face. It was just a thing that happened. Life went on.

When my parents first got divorced, I wasn’t really old enough to get it, I think. Then I got a little older and it hit me pretty hard. Now that I’m an adult myself, I can’t imagine my life and my parents being any other way. Both of them have gone through phases where they were so unhappy, both pre- and post-divorce. Now both of them are happy, and successful, and flourishing in ways they might not have had they still been married. They got married in their 20s, even younger than I am now, and I don’t think either of them knew what they wanted from life. Now they’re in their 40s and they probably have more interesting lives than I do.

To be honest, when I think about my parents and who they are now, I have no idea why they got married or even started dating in the first place. They are entirely different people with different interests, hobbies, and ideal living situations. But that’s okay. They tried being married, and when it didn’t work, they decided not to be married. That’s all divorce is. Just a slightly more complicated and way more expensive break-up. I’m glad they decided to get divorced instead of resent each other my entire life and skew my perception of what a marriage should be.

So, please, don’t look at me like that. Just because my family is a little different than yours, doesn’t mean I’m broken. That kind of shit is character-building, right? So really, you could learn a lot from my and my built character.

Cautionary Tale – With Wine

This is a long read. So I’ve opened a bottle of wine. It’s pretty great – Malbec is my new favorite red. But if you’re someone with a short attention span – start at the quote and just read the few sentences after that.

I promised I would tell you how I got to this place, over 70 miles away from most my friends. “This place” happens to be a suburb of a bankrupt rust belt city. Not someplace I would have chosen ordinarily. It has it’s own kind and charm, but…my wanderlust seeks bigger and better and different things.

Once upon a time... no, that’s too much, let’s try again:

Once, I was in high school. Specifically, I was sorta-kinda-talking-to a boy in the winter of my senior year of high school and simultaneously trying to decide where to go to college at the same time. Being the intelligent, mature high schooler that I was at the time, I waited to officially date the boy and fall for the boy until I had made a decision on where to spend the next four years in college. I didn’t want this boy clouding my judgement.

As it turned out, I chose the school geographically closer to the boy and to our hometown, so I decided to fall for and date the boy. I didn’t think we’d date for very long, but then somehow we were still together when I graduated high school, and when I left for college. Three and a half years later we were still together. Then, we started making plans for after I graduated. I’d find a job and move somewhere near his seemingly permanent location, a suburb of a bankrupt rust belt city. Since I’d be living up there, it would just make financial sense for us to move in together.

Before we made it to the four year mark, he decided that just wasn’t going to work for him. He didn’t want to move in with me right away, he said. Then he decided he didn’t want to move in with anyone, ever, that it wasn’t my fault. Now it’s just a month and a half before I graduate college and I am “…” <— this close to landing a job. Near his bankrupt rust belt city no less. Then, he decides we shouldn’t be together, since he doesn’t think he can truly, fully commit to anyone, ever. It’s not my fault, of course. It’s all him. I’m just too nice or selfless or sweet or something. And he’s the asshole who doesn’t deserve me. Of course, he won’t ever change. Even for cute, sweet, selfless me. So I get this job near his godforsaken city because it’s the only place I looked for jobs. Suddenly, instead of looking for apartments that my boyfriend and our two incomes can afford, I’m grumpily looking for sad studio apartments in less exciting suburbs. The boy I have followed has left me. I’m just alone in this suburb of a city I never wanted to be a part of. I’m in a new state so I have to get a new driver’s license, my insurance goes up, and I can’t afford to get a dog. Which is really the one thing I wanted when I graduated and was living on my own.

Even worse – I’ve always had wanderlust. I grew up in various parts of the Midwest, went to college in the Midwest… I wanted to get out of the fucking Midwest! Don’t get me wrong, the Midwest can be spectacular. But I just wanted a chance to get out, even just for a minute, while I still can.

I used to be unapologetic. I used to be unrelentingly independent and opinionated. There was a time when I wouldn’t even think of allowing another person (especially a boy) telling me what I could and couldn’t do. Where I could live. Yet, I let this one boy do just that. For some reason, I thought the ‘happily ever after’ would justify everything. I thought, sure, I could sacrifice this one small thing for him. Because no, I don’t have a reason to live anywhere else, I just really want to leave the Midwest. He has aging parents and other “reasons” for staying in his home state. I thought…I don’t know, I thought I was done dating forever and I was sort of cool with that. So I tried to quiet my wanderlust.

But, turns out, I’m not done dating. Turns out, he’s just a medium-sized blimp in my long-ish dating history. Maybe he’s a fairly important footnote, but still just a footnote in the overall text. Now I’m in “this place” and I wish I had sacrificed less, whether we ended up together or not. Now that I’m no longer with him, I realize I lost a part of myself in that relationship. Mostly, I lost four years of my life. Was it truly a complete waste? No, probably not. I did learn a lot about myself. Mostly I learned some of what I ultimately want and deserve in my next relationship(s). I also learned and realized I need to return to being unapologetic. Also importantly, I’m starting to figure out what I want out of the person I ultimately decide (if I decide) to marry. Between the failed relationships and all of my Tinder/dating experiences since this relationship, that list is starting to become a weird collection of things. If nothing else, it’s at least one step forward in answering the question ‘what do I want?’ in one small facet of my life.

So – bottom line – ladies and men alike… don’t give all you have to a significant other. Or a friend, or family member for that matter (maybe kids are an exception, I’m the opposite of an expert on that topic). It’s just not going to be good for you in the end. Especially if the other person won’t do the same for you. Compromising to make you both happy is one thing…pretending to be something you just aren’t is another thing entirely. I gave so much time and effort into a relationship and to a person who…who knows, maybe he did care and just sucked at showing it, but either way wasn’t willing to make any sacrifices for me while I was making plenty for him. He didn’t care enough, and not to the extent I expect and deserve. As my grandfather, a wise old man, would say:

You gotta look out for number 1, because number 2 won’t.

Look out for yourself. Do what’s going to be good for you, not for them. Be a little hedonistic from time to time and do what makes you happy. Because, ultimately – who else is going to look out for you, if not yourself?