A few weeks ago, one of my best friends wrote me a note as I left college. He remarked that he’d miss hearing me tease him and make fun of him when I graduated. Of course, I don’t think he meant it as an insult, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
Since I was little, people have said how nice I am. I was. As a kid and a pre-teen I was sweet and very sensitive, if not a little too sensitive, very romantic and very careful not to step on anyone’s toes. I had a lot of friends that I was fiercely close with, but a lot of that changed when I started dating.
When I was in high school, I had a pretty terrible relationship. Besides being cheated on, I was manipulated, abused and quite literally left on the side of the road to die. Cheery stuff.
As anyone who’s been in a remotely unsafe or abusive relationship will tell you, it’s really, really hard to talk about the specifics with people, especially those that you’re close to. If you don’t believe me, look at the comments on any article about Ray Rice or John Lennon’s abuse and count how many times you see people patronize their wives.
So, instead of talking about it or seeking help, I shut down.
I cried, a lot. I hid a lot. I forced people to spend a lot of time with me because I was pretty terrified of being alone. Obviously, when you do that kind of crap around teenage girls, they tend to be scared, and I was promptly told that I could stop talking about my feelings and my relationship or I could find different friends.
Suddenly, the world didn’t seem so easy and love not so romantic or necessary or safe. I found quotes about love and friendship to be not only untrue, but pretty egregious and pretty offensive. Physical affection started making me sick and the world seemed too loud, too scary, too tumultuous to even be real.
In the process I got very, quietly angry. As evidenced by Tumblr’s signature style, sarcastic humor got very en vogue and I found a niche in playing very sarcastic and very over it. I used this (subconsciously) to combat anyone who was like me pre-all of this bullshit. Anyone who used sappy quotes on social media found themselves with an eyeroll and a screenshot. People who took love way too seriously got major flack from me and I soon found it super hard to talk about or deal with real feelings.
Now, little did I know at the time that this type of humor, while therapeutic at times, is kind of rooted in unhealthy emotions—duh, Kristin—and comes from a sort of twisted misogyny—mocking little girls for liking One Direction or belittling people’s passions is not comedy.
This all got a little better when I started writing my sex and relationships column and found feminism. I found the act of being kind and accepting others made it easier to accept myself, but I never quite got out the teasing and the lack of discussing my feelings.
I’d been told by some people that my teasing bordered on too far. I’ve been teased by others that I was emotionally distant and afraid of love, it kind of goes both ways. But either way it never feels good.
As ashamed as I am of the person I was before all this crappy stuff, I wish I could get some of her back. I’d like to be nicer, I’d like it to be easier to talk about my feelings and hold people and tell them how much I love them without being so damn scared or embarrassed.
That’s what it is, embarrassment.
I don’t want to be the shell of a person I was when I was young. I don’t want to go back to crying all of the time and feeling everything so intensely. But, I do want some of my old self back. I want to be kinder to people, let them off the hook more. I want to make fun of people less and cheer people on more. I want to be able to talk about my feelings in a serious and healthy way.
But, as anyone who is sarcastic or who has been through trauma will tell you, it’s not that easy. It’s pretty scary to be soft, especially as I get older and deal with just how much harder the world gets.
There’s this quote I love: “The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg…” It’s about the stuff you’re made of that lets you survive in this world.
I want to be soft with the people who deserve it, but I want to be hard enough to handle the world’s BS. This sophomoric, apathetic culture that the world created is not helping anyone, but neither is being a complete clod to everyone in the world.
I wish that there was some grand takeaway that I could quote that would help me live my life in a more positive way. I wish people would be nicer to teenage girls. I wish I could be nicer. I wish I could be tougher.
We’re all a little afraid of our former selves, forgetting it’s who we once were. So, instead of cringing at my former self on Timehop, I’m going to celebrate. Cheers to that girl and cheers to whoever I’ll be tomorrow.
Former image credit: CSG Womens Thermals
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Thank you, thank you for this.
This is such a great post, especially for the specific points it makes about the embarrassment that comes from trauma. Yours was particularly brutal, and while I cannot say that mine was to that extent, on some level it is almost physically painful to put myself out there romantically, which is why I loved your post so much. It’s hard to go back to trusting people like we did when we were younger, but I definitely agree that the process to do so is worth trying.
Cute, Typical, Short.