The Man Who Told Me I Shouldn't Be Sad
The other day, I posted the below photo and poem on Facebook and Instagram. I'd like to point out right off the bat, that this poem is decidedly not that sad.
stand up straight, girl stand tall don’t close up your heart like that don’t let that fire burn out fall asleep to the sound of your own pounding heart don’t ever think a lover can fix you, girl you won't ever need that kind of fixing make a list of things you adore and put yourself first: you, the moon, strawberry jam holding hands, music and dancing and people who don’t shy away don’t shy away from yourself, girl wrap ribbons around your own neck zip your own dress don’t let anyone take the spring from your step collect butterflies and swallow them whole don’t ever let go of the girl inside your own veins who believed in magical kingdoms far far away where the hurt couldn’t get to her, girl do not look away from those who condemn you look up and say, I am a kingdom and when the urge to run scratches the back of your throat, have a cough drop stand up and swallow your pride you are nothing and everything at the same time do not mourn the days you lost hiding do not be ashamed of nights you spent crying tears are tiny rivers, and baby girl nothing is stronger than water drink it up, but don’t let it drown you I want you to breathe out, hard when life feels too full stand up straight, learn to play Für Elise across keys of your ribcage and when your Momma says I love you I want you to believe her when your daddy holds your hand squeeze it tight do not be afraid of the night do not be afraid of anything, girl you can slay monsters with those piercing blue eyes you are nothing and everything at the same time girl, square those shoulders stand tall and proud don’t ever let your fire burn out
And a much-older, sideways, half-hearted, friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend acquaintance who just happens to be a man, responded with this:
Weird, right? Egregious spelling errors aside, his message is undeniably short-sighted. He assumes that because I may be considered "conventionally pretty," I must be happy, underscoring our cultural belief that looks are all that matter. Looks, I might add, are usually the last thing that matters when we're talking about personal fulfillment or happiness. But he's not first man to insinuate that my looks should bring me happiness. This is almost too painfully obviously to write down, but pretty people can be assholes. They can be insipid and boring and insufferable. Pretty people can also be smart, funny, charming, or sad. This man's projection of sadness into my poem says more about him than me or my writing.
The other week, I was complaining to my therapist about men generally, and dating men more specifically. The problem I've often run into in my dating life is that I'm attracted to emotionally unavailable alpha-male types, who can't or won't connect with me on a deeper emotional level. This deeper emotional connection is something I need, but not something I'm comfortable (yet) saying that I need, especially to emotionally unavailable alpha-male types who typically just blink at me while visibly shuddering at the word "emotion."
"Well you know," my therapist quips, "many people look attractive, but become ugly, or at least, less attractive, as soon as they open their mouths." Of course, he's right. And his comment pinpointed a deeper problem I've had when dating men: they usually do turn ugly at some point. But then again, so do I. Everyone has toxic traits or habits they bring into relationships, mine being unhealthy attachment styles and a constant desire to assert my independence. I want to be with someone while simultaneously having them clearly understand that I definitely don't, or won't ever, need them.
But attachment styles aside, there is ample evidence that physically attractive people are privileged in some ways: they often make more money, they attract a wide variety of mates, they are perceived to be more trustworthy and honest, and here's the kicker: they are perceived to live happier lives than the average, just okay-looking Joe. The word "perceived" is important here, because no one actually knows if pretty people are happier. I have a hunch that having an attractive body or a pretty face doesn't bring anyone real happiness, just like owning a yacht or a giant house or a fancy car won't make anyone truly happy, either. It's all surface level stuff that fades quicker than we'd all like to think.
Adyashanti, the American-born spiritual teacher, taught that acquiring new shit only provides temporary happiness because:
"When we make a purchase and/or get what we want, we are temporarily happy and fulfilled. But the reason for happiness is not because we got what we wanted, but because for a brief period of time, we stopped wanting, and thus we experience peace and happiness."
The same is true for looks. If we stop wishing we looked differently, we might discover that we look totally fine. Many people invest thousands of dollars over their lifetimes changing how they look with botox, fillers, nose jobs, etc, without realizing that their face with a different nose is still their face. Moreover, the brain inside the head on which the face resides is the same, so if the brain was unhappy with the old nose, it'll still be unhappy with the new one. Humans aren't stupid enough to find fulfillment and joy in a new nose, and anyone singing that song is likely trying to sell you...a new nose.
The funniest aspect of all this is that I'm not sad. Nor am I, as my old-man-Facebook-acquaintance stated, "putting myself through" anything, or at least, I wasn't when I wrote that piece. If my poem feels lined with sadness, it's only because I was a bit sad while writing it. Not a balling-my-eyes-out-in-grief kind of sadness but an, "I wish I knew all this when I was younger; when I was confused and hurting" kind of sadness.
I wish I had known that I alone am responsible for stepping into a journey of self-discovery and growth. One problem with the hyper-alpha types I'm attracted to is that they turn up their noses at the very idea of self-interrogation. One of my problems is that I may interrogate myself too much. The only lingering sadness I felt when writing that poem is for my younger self who was so terrified of confronting my flaws and broken bits. But the cool thing about being human is that we all have flaws and broken bits. My Facebook friend wasn't looking any deeper than my skin. But being seen, really seen, is something we all crave and deserve. And the first person we usually crave it from is ourselves.
P.S. Read pro runner Lauren Fleshman's letter to her younger self, HERE.