Anyone who knows me – hell, probably anyone who’s met me – knows I am bad at asking for help. Not just bad at it, really… like, allergic to it. I’m the person who juggles 50 pounds of groceries and the house keys rather than asking someone to carry a bag or two. I’m the girl who drives herself home with a broken ankle rather than call a friend to come pick her up. (Yeah, that happened.)
I’ve just got this weird sort of stubbornly self-destructive independent streak. In a dude they might call it cowboy pride or something. And it’s super bad when it comes to money.
Just the thought of asking someone in my life for money is enough to put me on high-anxiety mode. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a lower-middle-class family. While my parents never really taught me how to budget or plan finances, they were good at telling me what we could or could not afford. I started to feel ashamed to ask for anything non-essential, and pretty soon I just stopped asking for anything. I started working at 15 so I could pay my own way. If I was going to waste money, at least it would be my own.
It got harder as I went through college. My dad got laid off from the company where he’d been a top performer since before I was born. My parents couldn’t send me to a university like they’d planned. The company stocks they were going to use all plummeted in value just before the layoff – that nest egg was essentially gone overnight. I worked to pay my way through community college, and they struggled to help me pay my tuition.
They also took over running a local business -one that was well liked and pretty popular. It seemed like a safe bet. The previous owners, though, had no idea what they were doing. They falsified the financial statements they showed to my parents. The stores were circling the drain when my parents bought them. My family worked their asses off for years just trying to get them to turn a profit. Of course, being the oldest and out of the house, that meant I was on my own financially.
Fast forward to today. I haven’t asked my family for money probably in the better part of a decade. I can’t even imagine starting that conversation. But the truth of the matter is, I’ve been struggling. Between the hassle it took to get into my new place after leaving my husband (the week I’d planned to stay at a friends house turned into a month) and a change in pay schedule at work, I have been emotionally and financially exhausted.
I mentioned to my husband that I may have to quit therapy for a while. It was down to either that or not eating for a couple weeks, since rent and deposit on the new place cleaned me out. My therapist is an incredibly kind woman who takes barter as well as cash – I’ve paid for therapy in pickles and hand-knit scarves before – but I have enough of a struggle just dealing with that bit of generosity. I’d honestly rather just pay the lady. Plus, I can’t pay my student loan or rent in pickles, so there’s only so far that can carry me anyway.
Well. I found out earlier this week that my husband went and did something amazing. He sent a quiet message to as many of my friends as he could reach, explaining my situation, and asking for donations. He told them not to say anything to me, that this was without my knowledge and that I would probably kill him if I found out.
I won’t put any numbers down here, but I now have enough to pay for a month of therapy in advance and still buy bus fare this week. I’ll be able to make it to next payday without overdrawing my account or maxing out the meager bit of credit I have left on my credit card. And I can eat.
This is what true love looks like. It’s not necessarily romance. It’s not flowers and chocolates and wine.
My husband – the husband I left, the husband whose heart I broke – was willing to find me the help I couldn’t bring myself to ask for. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank him enough. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank my friends enough. I don’t even know who pitched in, or how much – and honestly, I don’t want to. It’s all I can do to just accept this gift gracefully and humbly say thanks.
Well, it’s going to be a busy couple of weeks. Finding an affordable apartment in a big city is hard, yo. I know I’ve said it before, but I may go radio silent for a bit.
Sullivan and I are doing as well as we can, and there will be more Penny adventures coming your way once the dust has settled. Stay tuned.
So, an email chat with this lovely lady got me thinking. Why don’t we know how to be alone?
She and I are both going through similar things: mourning a transition in close relationships in our lives, getting used to the idea that we may have to be and live and exist on our own for a while… for maybe a long while. We’re both frightened by the prospect, both nervous about moving through this new world of aloneness.
I spoke with my therapist about that very thing this week. I find myself positioned between my past self and my future self. My past self is young and afraid. She doesn’t believe she can care for herself. She knows she’s going to be lonely. She worries she’ll fall apart. On the other hand, she’s a romantic. She loves and values the people in her life, reaches out when she’s in need, allows others to take care of her.
My future self is confident, comfortable with being on her own. My future self enjoys the people in her life but is ultimately self reliant, needing and relying on no one. She can take care of herself, motivate herself, reach all her goals. She follows her own path and doesn’t make life decisions based on what others want from her. In all honesty, though, this supremely independent future self is also a little bitter, mistrustful of those close to her because she’s learned that others will always let you down. She doesn’t let herself get too attached to people. She’s convinced herself that she can’t – and thus, won’t – trust other people to come through for her or be there when she needs them. So she convinces herself she’ll never need them.
Neither of these women is fully me. They both have strengths and faults. They’re each wrong about certain things, and wise in others. My challenge right now is finding the balance between them.
Bottom line is, it takes a lot of courage to be alone. It takes a lot of trust in oneself, a lot of determination. But being alone is not without its perks. It means the freedom to self-determine; to make the choices that work for me and only me. I think women are often taught to sacrifice their dreams and desires on the altar of Family, Responsibility, or Relationship. There’s always someone else we have to take care of, watch over, look after, nurture, encourage… And in return we’re given the vague impression that it will come back around somehow, that there will be someone to take care of us, watch over us, look after us, nurture and encourage us. I think there are probably more lonely women who are in relationships that lonely women who are alone.
So I will take care of, watch over, look after, nurture, and encourage myself. First and foremost. By myself. Without expecting or hoping that there will be someone else there to do it for me. And when loneliness does strike (and it will)… I’ll do what I need to do to get through. I’ll call a friend. Play an instrument. Paint a D&D mini. Go for a walk. Learn a language. Write a blog post more than a day in advance. Browse the internet until my eyeballs fall out. Develop interests.
I’m good at being a friend to others. Let’s see how good a friend I can be to myself.
So it’s an hour and a half into 2013, and here I am watching The A-Team with the people I love best in the world. I just wanted to take a moment to wish you all the very best in the upcoming year. I don’t know about all of you, but 2012 was a total douche to me. For once, I say Good Riddance to all that I leave in the dust of this past year, and welcome a better tomorrow with open arms.
I’m hoping 13’s my lucky number.