This is a guest post by Silver Longjohns.
My darling. I love you so much, more than you know.
There’s a phrase I want to teach you – it’s “fuck that noise.” I’m almost definitely not using this vernacular properly, but no matter – to me it means pushing back against unspoken expectations that are hurtful. (I’ll stick with the noise concept here, but if the phrase doesn’t really work for you, try this conceit.) I know you’re a young woman with a lot of good in your life – a supportive family, a strong and healthy body, warm and smart friends, a good education.
But, my darling, you’ve also got a lot of noise in your head. While you’re doing a great job meeting expectations – behaving and dressing conservatively, doing All The Homework – there is a lot of noise that is hurting you.
You may not believe me. After all, both the noise and the hurting have always been there, and you can’t imagine life without them. You know on some level that you hurt, I think, but you don’t know why or how, and given all the good in your life you also don’t really believe you have any right to be hurting. But you do hurt. The only way to deal with the hurting is to face the noise that’s causing it, name it, and wrest away the power it has over you. Otherwise, it only gets worse with time, screws you don’t believe in that are tightening in your brain.
So I’m writing this to you because you can and will learn to recognize that noise and face it down, and maybe it will be easier if someone points some of it out to you, recognizes the struggle you’re going through.
You currently equate your value as a person with all kinds of difficult/impossible expectations:
1) your ability to save the world
2) your ability to know all the things
3) your ability to be attractive in the right way but not too attractive in the wrong way
4) your ability to find someone to be in a long-term, devoted, monogamous, sexy, stimulating relationship and have 2.5 perfect children with you
5) your ability to get everyone to like you.
Augh! So much noise! Let’s unpack it.
First, (1) saving the world. At twenty-three, fresh out of college and deeply insecure about your marketable skills, you will feel very old. Please believe and remember that you are still quite young. Those giant disparities and tragedies for which you feel overwhelming responsibility were in place long before you. They, or others like them, will likely be in place long after you are gone. Do what you can to ease them, but please too be gentle with yourself. The world is not served by martyrdom or self-inflicted violence (more on this later).
As for knowing all the things (2): guess what, you already love learning! But you can’t know everything. And it’s ok to not know things. Ask questions. Sometimes people will be surprised that you don’t know things. Decide that you don’t give a shit. The sooner you do that, the happier you will be. Srsly.
Then, my darling, there’s (3) your sexuality – why don’t you wear the short, tight dresses that you love? I know you have the urge to avoid them because you don’t like the way you are treated when you wear them. You don’t like your unearned beauty privilege; you don’t like long stares from strangers and friends; you don’t like when your value as a person is equated with the appearance of your body. You especially don’t like walking in the dark haze that is fear of harassment. No wonder your wardrobe stays somber.
Darling, go look up what “blaming the victim” means. It will take a very long time for your brain to absorb this idea, that if you – or anyone else – wear sexy things and get catcalled or harassed, it is not your fault. But it’s true: it’s really, truly, honestly, not your fault. Not. Your. Fault.
There are places where you can be and look sexy and not be harassed, and there are techniques to speak up and fight back if and when you are. Go find those things – the sexy dresses, the safe spaces, and the skills. The joy of feeling sexy and beautiful is so worth it.
There’s a lot of pressure to (4) find the perfect partner. Society privileges people in long-term, monogamous, heterosexual relationships. But there are all kinds of ways to live life, and as long as you are in healthy, supportive relationships, sexual or not, you can be a happy human, despite all the attention that weddings get. And while I know you’re carrying around that broken heart and you may wrestle with jealousy of all the happy couples out there, you really can’t know what they’re going through. Every relationship is different. Focus on you. You’ll feel better for it.
Also, start reading up on queer theory and ethical non-monogamy. Understanding the broader context of relationships – that there’s a beautiful diversity in ways to live and love, and how living in that diversity often involves re-writing scripts and fighting for recognition – casts the desirability of hetero-monogamy in an entirely different light.
When you do find yourself entangling with a partner, whether for a day or years, prioritize healthy communication. Create safe spaces to express all the feelings, even breathtakingly scary ones like jealousy or attraction to other people. And don’t forget to bring a suitcase full of compassion when you do.
And sex – you’re already doing a lot right on this one. You know that society puts a bunch of unreasonable double standards on you. You’ve also got a healthy sense that sex is a great thing, and that’s awesome. But there’s a big thing you’ve got wrong: you have this idea that being in a relationship with someone means you must have sex with them whenever they want it, and you feel ashamed, undesirable, and unworthy if you ever just don’t want it and they do.
Beyond safety and consent, there are no “shoulds” with sex – not with frequency or style or partner. Gather your courage and say no when that is what you want. Anyone who puts up a fuss when you say ‘no’ is proving that they are not able or willing to make your feelings a priority. They are not worth your time.
(And it goes both ways: respect your partner’s feelings and desires too. However, you’re going to be tempted by the trap of taking care of others at the steep expense of your own needs. Learn to recognize when you’re doing that and how to step back and re-evaluate.)
One last thing, as least for now: you (5) want everyone to like you. The root of this is that you tend towards not liking yourself (only someone who meets All The (impossible) Expectations deserves to be loved!). You want other’s validation in order to feel valuable.
The best and most sustaining way to feel valuable to is treat yourself like you are valuable. A couple people will give you this Mary Oliver quote in this vein: “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
Guess what – you already love so many things! Food, sleep, sunshine, hugs, sex (at least in theory…), friendship, dancing, marveling at the world. Keep allowing yourself to seek those things out. And we know that you’re a big brain, but also learn to love using your body. The more you use it, the more you will love it. It is incredibly special, amazingly talented, indelibly you. And darling, your body is also not permanent, so love it and live in it as much as you possibly can. Dance! Sing! Walk! Run up the stairs! You love these things. Do them every day; if you don’t I suspect you’ll regret it when you no longer can.
And back to ‘getting everyone to like you’ – you will build more genuine relationships if you genuinely like yourself. Also, having a handful of genuine, loving, supportive relationships is much more sustaining than ‘getting everyone to like you.’ And people will genuinely like you if they can see your authentic, self-loving self.
Whew! Like I said, lots of noise! Fuck that. Darling, it is important to put energy towards the kernels of good in these overblown expectations – things like meaningful work, a healthy sex life, and loving relationships.
But your value as a person is intrinsic. Keep on remembering that.
I’ll end with this: you have a lot of feelings, and that is okay! Your head will feel better when you get your feelings out of it. You will be surprised how many people tell you to write down your feelings as a way of coping. Try it. Make it a habit. (I’ll thank you later.)
All my warmest fuzzy love,
And PS – please just floss your damn teeth.