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.
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 here’s an awesome thing.
I’ve been reading feminist blogs for like a month straight – I seriously can’t tear myself away. And while there’s some really horrible, sad, make-me-want-to-cry stories of things women have experienced (not to mention several that come uncomfortably close to my personal history)… there are also some really happy, lovely, empowering messages out there.
So here I am, enjoying all these happy lovely empowered feelings, and kind of simultaneously surfing Facebook… and I’m like “Wow, that picture of the gal from that burlesque troupe I was in for a while is really gorgeous. And she was like super good at it, and kind of an inspiration. I’m gonna tell her that.”
And then I was like “Wow, look at all my friends from different periods of my life that are meeting senators and doing awesome science things and having babies and starting their own businesses and going to Japan and making hilarious video-game-based Christmas decorations and getting rad tattoos… I know a lot of really awesome people and it feels cool to be in touch with them. I think I’m going to announce that to the world.”
And within literally moments of those two things, I got messages back from some of those friends, saying how much those comments meant to them and how happy it made them to hear it. And that made me really happy – and it was this neat little Happiness Feedback Loop (thanks, Pervocracy, for the term).
And I’ve just realized, just now for the first time in my life, that this is what friendship is like. I mean, real friendship. It’s not spending every moment together, or loving every little thing about each other, or even knowing every little thing about each other… it’s just, being happy that the people you’ve met and cared/still care about are happy. I used to think that I was a bad friend, or at least bad at keeping friends, because I was terrible at keeping touch and way too good at letting people drift away. Now I realize that drifting is okay, it happens, and that’s not a bad thing. As old friends drift out, new ones drift in, life goes on. You don’t have to frantically allocate all your time to maintaining friendships as if they were porcelain bowling pins you had to eternally juggle, lest one drop and shatter to pieces because you were so damn negligent and now that person probably hates you. Friendship just… is. It exists, comfortably, a background hum through the din of everyday life. Friendships aren’t rare, delicate orchids that wilt and die the second you forget to pay attention to them; they’re tattoos. Tattoos you can choose to remove if you want to, but that don’t fade away just cause you haven’t looked at them in a while.
And every once in a while, you do look at them, and just go “Goddamn that’s beautiful.”
Ok. I’ve got a problem with the friend zone.
I’ve seen this applied in memes more than I’ve heard it in real life, but it seems like it’s friggin’ everywhere. And I know what it means: something along the lines of “Duude, that chick is totally hot but you’re being all nice to her and she’s just USING you for it! You are so not getting laid right now, brah.”
Right. Because every guy wants to, immediately and without exception, fuck every woman he spends more than two minutes around. And holy shit, if you ever actually DO anything for her, she’d better be willing to put out, man. Especially if you spend money.
Friend zone as a concept bugs me mainly because it gets held up as this example of utter failure on the guy’s part, and by some weird inference paints the girl in question as some heartless bitch. So let me tell you about a guy I “friend-zoned,” and you can tell me if a) it was really that bad, and b) I’m getting the term right.
I’ll call him Ty.
I think we met over a game of New World of Darkness; he is, to this day, one of the best damn GMs I’ve ever had the pleasure of roleplaying with. (And one of the most infuriating; it took about five years after the game ended for me to get him to tell me the story arc he had planned for my character – a policewoman who came home to find her husband brutally and ritualistically murdered, and her son missing. As a player, I didn’t know who committed the murders, but my character was laser-focused on finding the bastards. The game eventually disintegrated when I realized the group I was working with wasn’t interested in finding out who killed my husband and took my son. Then he refused to tell me what the answer really was. FOR. FIVE. YEARS. Like, I seriously only found out a few months ago.)
He is a generous and funny guy. His sense of humor is wretchedly offensive but unmistakably hilarious; and he is offensive toward everyone pretty much equally, which somehow makes it ok. I do remember early on I had to ask him a couple of times to lay off the rape and dead baby jokes; they are particularly triggery for me. Once he understood where I was coming from, though, he was good at remembering that Those Topics = Not Funny for me. He is also the type that will do absolutely anything for a friend in need – and I have been a rather needy friend over the years.
Here are some of the things he and I have done together:
Had dinner many times. Complete with drinks. He paid.
Had lunch many times. Both with drinks and without. He paid.
Had breakfast together. Crepe cakes are amazing. So is breakfast pot pie.
Been blindingly, vomiting-so-hard-I-peed-my-pants drunk. He brought me a fresh pair of (his) pants to wear. I spent the night on his futon.
Played Fallout: New Vegas. Apparently I’m a better shot than I thought.
Went to opening night of Iron Man.
Gone furniture shopping. He needed a better couch that wasn’t bachelor furniture.
Talked about going clothes shopping. For him.
Vegged on the couch and watched TV together. Lots of Top Gear and Mythbusters.
Played more board games than are probably healthy for any living being.
Taught me to play Magic: The Gathering. He gave me an embarrassing amount of Magic cards as a birthday gift when he saw how much I enjoyed it.
Got thrashed as a team at a Magic tournament (Two-Headed Giant format). Had fun anyway.
Fixed my computer when I got a virus on it & couldn’t afford to pay Geek Squad.
Talked an hour or more on the phone to keep him from getting so bored he drove off the road on his way home.
Talked on the phone to keep me from getting bored at all.
Tried sushi with steak in it (it was delicious). Yeah, he paid then, too.
Talked about sex, cross dressing, the female orgasm, the male orgasm, why my breasts are actually not too small at all, why people say and do stupid things, why work sucks, just how much of an asshole his boss is, just how much of an asshole his clients can be, just how much of a bag of dicks my various employers and customers can suck, computers, cell phones, government conspiracies, cake, how many parts he’s had surgically replaced and for what reasons, why one nut is just as good as two, why high school sucked particularly hard for me, and just about anything else under the sun.
Got two different kinds of cake for my birthday because apparently “Chocolate or carrot cake sounds good” is not actually making up my mind.
Got coffee together. He paid (except for that one time when I totally ninja’d the bill).
Rushed me to urgent care when I suddenly turned white(r than usual) and couldn’t stand up because I was in so much pain. Pushed me around in a wheelchair till they could get me in. (Ovarian cysts suuuuck.)
Packed, moved, and unpacked all his stuff once.
Packed, moved, and unpacked all my stuff multiple times.
I’m looking at this list right now, and even in my head I’m going “Jeez, when is this chick going to put out? Why hasn’t he made a move yet?”
But here’s the thing. I happen to be married to the guy who introduced me to Ty. In our six or so years of friendship, there has never been a time where I wasn’t dating, engaged to, or married to this dude that Ty calls friend. And I guarantee you this: you will see a unicorn jump out of a pile of leprechaun shit and play Calvinball with Jesus and Santa Claus* before you’d ever see Ty break up a friend’s relationship. Plus, he’s had a girlfriend for a significant portion of that list.
He never did these things to get laid, and certainly not by me. He did these things because that’s what friends do. He did these things because he gave a shit about me, saw me as a real person with needs and desires and not a hell of a lot of expendable income, and wanted to spend time enjoying my company. And that of my husband. If we tried to pay him back, simply for the meals and events he’s covered in order to have us along, we’d go bankrupt tomorrow. If we tried to pay him back for the support and friendship he’s offered in addition to that… well, we’d never be able to. I’d like to think that the friendship and camaraderie we enjoyed was enough; Ty always certainly seems to think so.
He has been a loyal and steadfast friend, the kind that you can depend on for absolutely anything. He has been there for some of my worst moments; and for some of my best. And there has never been anything that was too weird, too ugly, too nerdy, too girly, or too anything-else for him to accept. He’s never asked for anything in return.
Yeah, I have a friend zone. It’s where my friends are.
*Unicorns lack the necessary fine motor skills for Calvinball.