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.

Sometimes, Life Isn’t Fair.

Once upon a time I was drunk and feeling defeated about my current situation, so I wrote a letter. I almost even posted it, or sent it, or something – but I guess I was sober enough to realize it might have been a bad idea. Just to give you an idea…

Dear Fuckface,

I gave you the best four years of my life. Four years of college and I stayed faithful to you. I was surrounded by boys in their prime who hadn’t yet let themselves go, by boys willing to shower me with compliments and free drinks. Boys who would’ve maybe even given me more than that. Boys who would’ve given up so much for me, for my dreams, for my bullshit whims. Given up things the way I did for you.

I fucking hated leaving my friends behind every goddamn weekend to come see you when all you did was sit there with your roommate and play video games. Great, that’s exactly what I wanted to miss the big game or the party for, to watch you play some stupid fucking game.

And ever since he broke up with me, that’s all I would think about when I thought about that relationship – the fact that he took the best four years of my life. Like he was some sort of thief, he took them from me without warning. I could get over the fact that he would choose his smoking habit over me if there was ever an ultimatum; the fact that I was essentially worth nothing to him. Because those are his issues, and not mine. He has to live with that for the rest of his life. The relationships I had been in since then have been enough to boost my self esteem and get over that. It’s the wasted time I couldn’t get over.

But now that I’ve been an adult for a full year now (yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds), I think maybe I was wrong.

I think I have yet to see my best four years. Even this past year, I’ve crammed enough blackouts into one summer that I’m not upset about missing out on those in college. I’ve done a lot of things I never thought I’d ever get to do. Basically – the rest of my 20s could be like college, except with more money to burn and less Thirsty Thursdays. Or I could use my twenties to build an incredible career for myself. Or I could travel to places that would be impossible once (if) I have kids. The possibilities are only limited by my meager income and student loan debt but otherwise completely limitless!

So, he didn’t take my best four years. He got my stressed-out, broke-ass, freshmen-fifteen years instead. I got some of his worst years, too. We saw each other at our worst, and now someone else will get to see me at my best. Without him weighing me down I feel like I can do anything.

Despite this new revelation, it still doesn’t seem fair to me that I missed out on a lot of things in college because of him. But, as my father would say:

Life.

A History of Madness

When I was younger, my dad would tell me that I was sorta like him – I never got too sad, but also never experienced the highs of overwhelming happiness. My emotions, like his, were always somewhere in the middle. He would get happy, sure, but never elated. He might get upset (and anger was certainly in his emotional vocabulary) but he rarely got inconsolably distressed. Growing up, I thought this was a totally normal personality trait I inherited; I thought a lot of people were similar.

In high school I was diagnosed with a mild form of depression. It finally clicked; that’s what my dad was talking about when he talked about his lack of mood swings. It wasn’t necessarily common, which I started to pick up on as I met and even befriended people who were the exact opposite. One of my best friends experiences every conceivable emotion in a given day, and it continues to be a hard thing for me to grasp. So that’s a common misconception – depression isn’t always feeling “down” as the name would suggest, but rather a lack of feeling any emotion – the highs or the lows. I don’t think I ever would have known, had I not been diagnosed.

Even so, when I was first diagnosed I rejected the idea. I didn’t want to be on any medication, I didn’t want to have a name for what I probably always knew was there. Luckily the psychologist who diagnosed me never really mentioned medication – he was all about natural remedies and gave me the rundown on what depression means and how to deal with it, sans drugs. I have to make sure I exercise, get enough sleep (but not too much), eat well (but don’t overeat), be careful with alcohol. Basic human needs and maybe common sense, sure. Except that when you’re depressed, all you want to do is lay around the house and sleep as much as possible. For me, I know I’m in an episode when all I want to do is sleep and when I don’t laugh quite as loud.

I know I’m come out of the shadows, however, when I can laugh hysterically again. As a baby, my mom tells me I would giggle uncontrollably to the point where everyone else in the room couldn’t stop laughing. Infectious, she called it. I was a happy kid. Later on, I wouldn’t realize the lack of laughter until I became hysterical again, until I was in the sun and out of the shadow. I remember one time early in my teenage years, I was in the car and something weird happened or my dad said something funny and I could not stop laughing. I laughed so hard I cried; so hard my stomach hurt. When I finally caught my breathe, I realize I hadn’t laughed like that in months, maybe even a year. I now remember that as the first time I came out of an episode. It’s comforting, in a way, to know I dealt with this thing before I even knew it was there. What other enemy can you defeat before you know it’s there?

The really messed up part is that I don’t even consider it an enemy; more of a companion, though nothing like Dexter’s dark passenger. I’ve written about it before, but it’s a delicate balance. When I’m depressed, my writing is usually better. I don’t know why, really. Maybe all the time I’m not spending with people gives me time to write; maybe the lack of emotion gives me some kind of clarity. It could be a lot of things, but writing is the one thing that brings me to some kind of peace with it, with my shadow.

Which, at a glance, is pretty cool right? Ok so general apathy whatever, but then my writing is (on average) a little better! Yay! Except I can’t control this thing, this shadow. It also makes my writing a little darker than I would prefer to be, normally. When I’m not experiencing it, I do everything to avoid it. I exercise, I sleep, I eat. I don’t feel it coming until it’s too late. It’s not like the flu. But when it does take over, I just sort of ride it out. I catch up on sleep, I write as much as possible. Even so, I don’t always know it’s happening until it’s over, so I can’t really take advantage of it, I just…exist through it. I don’t even realize my writing is good when I’m dealing with it. There’s just nothing I can do about it. At least, that’s how it feels. It feels like it won’t ever end. Somewhere, in the farthest reaches of my memory, I know it’ll pass. But I can’t make myself believe it.


A few weekends ago, I learned my maternal great-grandmother was diagnosed with depression after her husband died. In her lifetime, she also lost a brother and her son, both much too soon. To me, she’s always seemed happy-go-lucky, and I never knew her any other way.

After I was diagnosed, I never really talked to my dad about whether or not he thinks he has the same thing. We’ve talked about my depression, but never his.

This thing is coming at me from both sides of the family tree. Even if sometimes it’s born out of trauma rather than inherited – it exists. It’s there. I’ve embraced it, in a sense. Maybe because mine is mild, usually, I have that luxury.

It’s still scary, though. How will this thing change as I get older? Is the worst of it over, post-puberty? Is the worst yet to come – in the postpartum or menopausal stages of life? Will it ever go away?

Do I want it to?

The downside of Ambition (Dating Limbo pt 2)

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m terrible at this.

That’s my POF headline. It also happens to be what I say to myself – about almost anything – on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s work, sometimes it’s coaching soccer, sometimes it’s this very blog.

If I’m not the very best at something then I’m disappointed in myself. I’ve been in the exact same job for almost a year now, and because I’ve made no upward progress, I’m basically failing. I realize this trait in myself, and sometimes I can calm myself down but usually it just makes me more angry and frustrated.

I’ve always thought of myself as a perfectionist – but college taught me that I am more than okay with “good enough”. However, the combination of being ambitious and being a control freak is what might drive me to insanity. I want to have control over everything, and I want to be the best at everything – but I’m also incredibly lazy and easily demoralized by setbacks. I’m never settled or truly happy for very long. In my career, personal life, hobbies, or even physical appearance – I know I can do better, should be better, have been better once.

I don’t believe I’ve ever had the perfect relationship, or the perfect job. But I take the best parts of all my past experiences and want the next thing to be better than all the best parts. It makes dating a real pain in the ass. If one tiny thing reminds me of an ex in a bad way, I immediately want to break it off. I hold myself to an impossible standard, as well as those around me.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m terrible at this.

I’m seeing this guy right now – let’s call him Alfredo – and I can’t help but link his video gaming habit to an ex of mine. I can’t rule out all video gamers; I’d be left with maybe 10 guys in my age bracket and geographic location. Early on in my dating experiences, the minute someone reminded me of an ex – the way they acted, words they used – I immediately stopped seeing them. I’m trying to get over that. So Alfredo sometimes does things I don’t always like, has some habits I could do without… but he’s also the most fun I’ve ever had with a date-type person, even when we’re doing the simplest of things. I’ve gotten comfortable with him very quickly, and it’s just very simple and easy and wonderful. He’s more of a safe bet than some of the guys I’ve been with in the past. Yet, I’m still scared. Lately, the safe bet guys have been more scary to me than any bad-boy-wannabe. Maybe because I’ve learned that sometimes the good guy isn’t always as good as he seems.

It’s also frustrating because I have no idea how dating works. And as that ambitious control freak, I want to know everything and be good at all of it. Not understanding the dating game makes me even more angry that I didn’t get to date in college. I still have text conversations with boys from POF or Tinder that I’ve met before, and I feel like I should shut those down, I hate leading people on. I hate being led on. I’ve been seeing Alfredo for a month or two and when does that become shady? It isn’t “official” with Alfredo, and I don’t even know if that’s what I want anyway. But I like his taste in music and the fact that I can be ridiculous in front of him. He can cook. The ability to cook is such a small thing, but the time it takes for me to fall for someone is severely shortened when I see them in their element, and especially when that element happens to be in the kitchen. He continues to surprise me, and makes me laugh all day long. There’s a slight chance I’m over-thinking all of this, too. Maybe I’m just scared.

I’m scared that another failed relationship means one more thing I can’t get right. Either way, I’m not ready to dive in head first, but I’m not ready to let go yet either. There’s no explosive chemistry, but there’s staying power and a level of comfort with him. Maybe that’s more important.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m terrible at this.

And maybe being lost for awhile is okay. Someone needs to remind my ambition of that.

Are you okay? What do you want? Why aren’t you happy?

After months of not knowing, maybe I’ve finally figured it out.

I just want one goddamn thing in my life to make sense. To be a constant. Something reliable, something I’m good at, something that makes me feel good.

I had that, I had a rock (a stone, maybe only a pebble), for four years. As much as I hate that rock for dragging me down during college and then letting go at the worst possible moment, I don’t know if I could have make it through the uncertainty of college without that rock. The longer I had my rock, my pebble, the more I relied upon him. And sometimes, honestly, that rock wasn’t very good at being solid, at being there for me. (Maybe he was really more of a squishy, flaky pebble) But at least the pebble was predictable and made sense. I knew what to expect. I knew where my life with this squishy pebble was going, even if I didn’t know where other parts of my life were going. I had this squishy pebble to hold on to, even if he wasn’t always holding on to me in the same way, or wasn’t capable of being in love with me the same way all the time. At least he was there. So since he left I still haven’t been able to get solid footing, despite being over him. It was the constant he provided that I’m still trying to figure out. Up until now I’ve been trying to figure out my dating life, find a replacement squishy pebble. What I need now, though, is more than that – I need a solid rock this time.

Maybe my rock this time doesn’t have to be a relationship. It probably won’t be my job, not for awhile, but it could be something else. There’s more to life than boys and careers, right? I suppose friends and family are constants – but not in the same way. There’s a sort of obligation for them to stick around; rocks by default aren’t the same as rocks by choice.

In that same vein, I don’t believe in doing things like taking a year to “work on myself”. I don’t believe I should avoid dating just because I need to find a constant that doesn’t involve a boy. I don’t believe in forgoing one thing because I need to focus on something else. Maybe it’s my “I can do it all” mentality or the fact that I wouldn’t know where to start with something like ‘focusing on my career’. But regardless, I don’t believe in exclusion.

The rock doesn’t always have to be a boy, but it could be. It doesn’t have to be a person, really. I just need a constant, a more solid rock this time. No more squishy pebbles.

Maybe this blog is a start. I think before the squishy pebble, writing was the thing for me that made sense. Maybe this time it’ll be my ever-growing love of wine and food, or the ever-more habitual exercise routine. I don’t know. I just know I need something, a rock to orbit my life around. Something, anything – that makes the rest of my uncertain life make sense.

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.

The Loan People

Can we just talk about student loans for a minute? (Read: Can I just rant about this for more than a minute?)

In what universe does it make sense to go to a place for four (or sometimes five) years, and then spend the next ten paying for it? I just gave more money to my loan people than I will pay for rent, utilities, internet and coffee for the next month. I don’t have to give them that much, but I’d rather give them more money now than keep paying them in minimum payments for 10, or 15, or 20 years. Fortunately, I have a job that allows me to do that, but I’m also not paying into my 401k the way I probably should. All because of the damn loan people.

I get it. It’s not their fault. I wanted to go to college, and I wanted to go to one that didn’t have ‘community’ in the title. Is this what I get for being just the tiniest bit elitist? I’m now living the part of life I avoided talking or thinking about for the four years I was in school, and it kinda sucks. Paying bills and getting nothing in return feels like I’m just giving money away to some random, unknown thing. There’s not even an abstract idea here, like donating to a charity or investing in something.No fuzzy feeling or future gain. It’s not like a home or car loan, where I’m paying back the loan and if I don’t, I lose said car or house. I’m not currently using the thing I’m paying for. No, instead I pay rent to stay in my tiny apartment, I hope to all things holy and unholy that my car keeps moving so I don’t have to worry about that, and I pay the loan people for spending a majority of the last four years skipping class.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just now having the epiphany that I should have gone to class. I don’t regret a single class I skipped. My internships were far more valuable, and I’m proud to say I never missed a single day of work at any of them. It’s just amazing that I had to pay so much money to not go to class, and then earn the same grades as the kids who went to every single class. This is to say, of course, that grades matter and are an actual representation of how much was learned.. same grades = same amount of valuable knowledge, in theory, right? Shouldn’t I get a discount for getting that knowledge, while using up less of the professor’s time? No? Well shit.

I get it. I couldn’t get the job I have, and certainly not the job I’ll someday want, without this debt. Student loan debt isn’t a new concept, I also get that. Rising cost of education isn’t a new discussion. What I am just now realizing is that incoming freshmen don’t truly grasp what it is they’re getting themselves into when they apply for college and the coinciding loans. As a person who was 18 once, and was at one time willing to spend far, far more money on a school just because of the name and perceived prestige… I sure as hell wouldn’t have listened to any indebted 23-year-old. I didn’t, obviously. But what would I tell the 18-year-olds anyway? Don’t go to school? That’s stupid advice. Go to a cheaper school? That’s not necessarily good advice either. Don’t go to school until prices go down or until you can afford it?

I guess I don’t really have a point here. No bottom line, no real epiphany… it just sucks. That’s all there is to it.