The Internet is a cold, cruel place.
Okay, that’s a sweeping generalization that doesn’t apply to every aspect of the World Wide Web. Netflix knows me pretty well, Wikipedia was a homie in college, and Google did me a definite solid when I forgot the name of that one Kevin Bacon movie. But I’m going to roll with my faulty concept for a minute and attempt to back it up/break it down with an equation and some subjective evidence.
Social media + an undying need for validation + sensitivity + rejection = potential for a massive existential disaster.
(That’s how math works, right?)
Part 1: Mass Media Mood Swings
I am not immune to the power of the “like” button, the allure of “omg, ur so pretty” comments, or the fluttery feeling resulting from an “It’s a match!” notification. Nor am I immune to the ego-crush of a failed series of right swipes, the embarrassment of an unliked photo, or the self-doubt stemming from a read but ultimately ignored message sent to iamperfect4u on OkC.
Seriously, I’m like a 13-year-old girl on Instagram, waiting for the influx of likes on that presumably hot selfie that she ends up deleting because they take too long to arrive.
A.) Thank God I don’t have Instagram.
B.) Holy shit this is embarrassing.
I don’t stay off social media because I’m overwhelmed by contact with my friends. I stay off social media because my self-esteem is an incredibly fragile entity and I constantly get stuck in the muck of envy, jealousy, and shame.
I’ve given social media the power to dictate how I feel about myself and have frequently witnessed its impact on my inner dialogue: “Wow, what a successful day on the Interwebz. I must be a pretty decent human” to “I am a hideous cave monster attempting to infiltrate a crowd of unicorns. Time to put a bag over my head and return to my homeland.”
Meanwhile, my “wise mind” (wuddup DBT?) whispers consoling remarks: “Leif, remember when you danced on tree trunks and felt infinite and beautiful and free? You are loved. You are loved. You are loved and who gives a fuck what they think?”
But a whisper can’t compete with my inner drill sergeant/ prison guard/ judge. “Face it, Leif. You’re a walking red flag. You’re undesirable, childish, desperate, and foolish to think of yourself as worthy. You’re a loser. A cretin. A bog monster.”
That’s the voice I’m most familiar with. I give it precedence because it’s comfortable. I grew up with it. I justify its authority by telling myself that it keeps me humble. That I am supposed to be small. That if I love myself, I’ll turn into a blind narcissist.
Ahh, let’s cut the crap.
My real fear is that loving and believing in myself will lead to personal success. Reaching a high means there’s more room to fall. If I stay low to the ground, there’s no risk of injury. If I believe I’m a failure, rejection won’t startle me. If I don’t let people in, no one can leave me.
Photo break: As a precursor to the next section, here are Ryan’s pictures of me in “crazy drunk girl” mode. Ryan has endured many years of my ups and downs. Thanks for sticking around, dude.
I have been admired for my supposed ability to be myself without caring what other people think. If you haven’t picked up on it by now, I totally care. I care to the point that other people’s remarks, gestures, and facial expressions can launch me into a vortex of self-shaming. I care so much that I’ve repeatedly altered, hidden, and obliterated certain aspects of myself that people find unappealing. Part of that is natural. The unnatural and ultimately harmful part is trying to rid myself of the things that make me who I am.
I am painfully aware of my audience. I alter myself to fit in.
Fortunately, that’s not the whole truth. No one can exorcise me of my loud mouth, my peacock-like fashion sense, my childish sense of humor, or my love for Third Eye Blind.
Unfortunately, my bold, glitter-coated lifestyle sets me up for more judgment.
This blog certainly doesn’t help. I’ve chosen a contradictory occupation for someone with crippling sensitivity. I’m a professional self-shamer putting my insecurities on public display. I go through phases of wanting to delete this thing, of setting it to private, and of hiding it from people who might read it and think poorly of me.
Sometime around Christmas, I told my best friend and his girlfriend that I was officially hiding Big Mouth so as to not scare off new/old friends. They protested. “Don’t be ashamed of this shit. You’re not as alone as you think. It helps people. And if someone doesn’t like it, why would you want them in your life?”
The next day, I resurrected the blog. They were right. My writing is a filter. I know that some of these things are easier to swallow over time and in smaller doses, but, fuck, I’m a memoir writer. This is what makes me feel alive and purposeful. This is my attempt to give back to people. I survive by exposing the things that some people take to their graves. If you don’t like what you’re reading or dismiss me for being “crazy,” it’s probably time for you to delete my number.
This is me (argumentative philosophy buffs — looking at you, dear brother — stfu and let me talk). This is the me that was always lurking beneath my drunken debauchery, ice cold expressions, and nonsensical actions. And the more I hide these things from you, the more power they hold over me. I’m sick of my old bullshit. I’m sick of being known as a person who I don’t and never did identify with– as someone so scared and hurt that she scared and hurt the people who loved her the most.
Drinking helped me keep up the act. I wanted people to think of me as indestructible and, in order to do that, I needed to purge the part of me that already felt destroyed. I suffocated my authentic self and drank myself empty. Meanwhile, my body took the blows. The sensitivity never left me — it just moved from my heart to my arms, legs, feet, and gut. The most trivial comments registered as pin pricks shooting up and down my body, but I learned how to override the messages my intuition was trying to send. When my body screamed “DANGER,” I let the anxiety metamorphosize into mania. I wasn’t scared, I was happy. I was shaking from head to toe but I WAS SO, INCREDIBLY HAPPY.
And then, after creating some alcohol-induced chaos and publicly humiliating myself, I would spend the next day thinking about where I would cut myself, which bridge to jump from, and when I could pack my bags and hightail it to Oregon/Indiana/Minnesota/New York. (That’s the short list.)
Because of this, I imagine a lot of you only know who I am through writing, which means you probably spent years not knowing anything about me, excluding the disastrous nature of my facade. I didn’t want you to know how badly I was hurting. I didn’t want you to leave me. Ironically, that’s exactly why people left. That’s why my brother screamed at me on his back porch when the wedding was called off.
“You made me think you had changed — that you finally had your life together. You deceived me. I don’t know who you are anymore.”
I was a broken human being doing the best I could to survive.
Part 3: Reclaimed Virginity
Remember when I said I would be abstinent for a year? Well, I’m rethinking it. And by rethinking it, I mean it’s no longer a rule.
I haven’t talked about it because I didn’t want people to think of me as a failure/someone who can’t reach a goal. (Are you sensing a theme here?) But I think failure would assume that I jumped back into my former promiscuous lifestyle, sans deliberation.
Not the case. Sober Leif and drunk/manic Leif are two (or more) very different people. My manic self was a trained, yet sloppy, seductress. I knew how to walk into a crowd, pick out a man, and … you know. I knew how to pretend that sex was meaningless, even though all I wanted was to be loved. I was so afraid of both reciprocation and rejection that I deliberately sabotaged every single romantic encounter. Choice methods on one end included desperation, over-attachment, and fantasization. Methods on the other end included disappearing acts, random breakups, apathy, and fucking people’s friends.
Without my booze goggles, I can see people for who they are. I’m more aware of red flags. I have a better grasp on what I want, rather than how I can best please the other party. I’m scared as hell, but I think the fear is protecting me from old patterns.
I’m also really fucking awkward and sensitive to rejection, which brings me to another paradox. My trauma history has made submission a big no-no in my life. I don’t particularly enjoy being pursued because I’m afraid of forfeiting control and being left without a choice. This doesn’t apply to every situation — there are certainly times when I’ve slept with people out of a feeling of obligation — but I generally prefer to choose my partners.
This goes against the rules of, like, every heteronormative dating guideline ever. The dude is supposed to pursue the lady. If you pursue him, you ruin his stupid fucking chase. You’re easy. You’re slutty. You’re desperate.
Man, if I wanted to do this kind of work to be in a loving relationship, whether casual or committed, I would go back to being paid for it. I’m not a goddamn safari animal, slipping in and out of view until you shoot me in the head and throw me in the back of your truck. I am not a toy, a puzzle, or a mouse for your stupid cat paws. If you crave this bullshit courting ritual, might I recommend The Sims?
What I’m trying to say is that I’m setting new standards for myself while fighting off impulse and self-doubt. This means that I’m going on dates that don’t end in sex, I’m saying no to people who want sex without connection, and I’m learning to bounce back from failed/embarrassing encounters. And, trust me, when you’re typically the pursuer, you’re bound to experience your share of rejection. It’s humbling, to say the least.
* Ask me about New Year’s Eve if you want to relive your middle school years via my astonishing lack of social skills *
What I’ve realized throughout this process is that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING. I have never “dated.” All of my long term relationships blossomed from one-night-stands (I don’t advise this). I’m clueless when it comes to knowing which moves to make and when, how to make a good first impression, or how not to let someone move in within two weeks of meeting them (hey, what’s up, I did that four times).
It gets a little bit easier every time I do something different.
Plus, I finally know what I want! Kind of! A little bit! At least more than I used to! I want something in between a committed relationship and casual sex. I’m tired of anonymous bullshit that makes me feel like an unpaid prostitute. And I’m tired of jumping into things without actually knowing who someone is.
Changing these things is a slow and arduous process. I almost visited an old fling this week for the sole purpose of casual sex, but when I got to therapy, my body was having such an adverse reaction that I could barely breathe. And then my therapist could barely breathe. And then I sank into the couch and cursed my new inability to ignore my body. But, Jesus Lord, I am so glad I didn’t go through with it — dude didn’t even want to hang out beforehand. I would have driven a total of three hours for a booty call, only to find out a few days later that he felt absolutely nothing for me.
NO SIR. CHANGE IS A’COMIN.
I feel like a virgin again. Or a preteen. Or a preteen virgin.
It’s about fucking time.
Er, that came out wrong.