To hell with being ashamed of what you liked.
If I were to write this as some kind of list it’d say: 1.) No one is a decent person in their twenties… and then that would be the end of it.
If I were to recount every disappointing NYE party I’ve ever endured, I wouldn’t know which one to choose: the one I spent with an ex-boyfriend, stone cold sober, and weeping behind his back after the ball dropped, because I knew our relationship was doomed? Or, the time I had to work until 11 PM and rushed out into the cold, only to watch a ball of lights get dropped onto a counter at midnight in a way that only became funny in retrospect? (Among others, how would I decide?)
If I were to write this as some kind of book report, analyzing my life in relation to the books I’ve read within the last year, I’d quote an anorexia memoir: “Somehow we continued to believe that it is in the moments we are close to death that we feel most alive, and in the depths of our misery that we are most complete. Thus when it was over and we were warm in our beds, eating our breakfast and walking freely down the city streets, we often asked ourselves with sighing disappointment: Is this really it?”
Instead, however, I want to write about happiness.
I’ve spent the last year thinking about happiness, and what it means to me. Realizing that it’s a state of being I’ve always hoarded, and kept to myself—like, it’s easier for me to express sadness with clarity than it is for me to express happiness. On one hand, this is probably due to some kind of superstition, like: I don’t want to jinx it. While, on the other hand, I know it’s because I distrust happiness: it’s fickle and fleeting and always too good to be true. Like: Why share something with other people if it’s not going to last? Why put yourself through that kind of humiliation? (This has been my mindset for years.)
Therefore, to me, happiness is about as trustworthy as other people. Which is to say: happiness isn’t trustworthy, as a rule.
Now let me explain further, before I make you too depressed.
In the last year, I’ve learned that happiness is contingent upon our ability to accept the reality that people are capable of absolutely anything at any given moment, no matter how well we think we know them; that we are all so inherently disappointing, to spend our lives trying to deny and conceal this truth is to spend it feeling miserable, and hopelessly inadequate: alone. And, therefore, all acts of desire and longing—reaching for human connection—are acts of faith that we should be proud of. Regardless of how many times we get rejected, or pick the wrong people: it’s brave, and worth it, because getting anything right—in terms of withstanding love and happiness—is so rare.
This came as a loaded realization that, inevitably, segued into other thoughts; thoughts about desire vs. being desired, and whether being in a position of power is truly conducive to happiness.
As lame as it may be, I have always been a romantic and brooding person at my core: I enjoy nuanced movies and books with dark themes—any work of art with undertones that are hopeful in their hopelessness. (*cough* The Great Gatsby) Basically, I enjoy mourning things to a certain extent—longing for things that either never were, or will never be. And, at this point in my life, I’ve come to accept this general sense of unrest and longing as a part of my personality that’s never going to go away, whether I like it or not. (I am the longing: it me.)
All that being said, accepting this about myself has never exactly been the struggle. The struggle, really, has been acknowledging it, and not feeling ashamed of it. Because, I’ve got to be honest, being so insatiably desiring—of answers, and reasons, and other people’s explanations—feels very, very, icky and desperate. Like, it’s cool to be desired. Not to desire. Desiring is gross. (At least, this is what I’ve told myself ever since, like, the first grade.)
I look back, and recognize that I did a lot of weird things, trying to control this part of who I was. (Buying flavored water and sugar free gum instead of lunch, doing my homework but refusing to turn it in, breaking up with people I liked instead of stating—like an adult—what I needed from them, feeling attached to sociopathic and narcissistic people because I envied their level detachment, et al.) Which is to say: people do weird things when they’re obsessed with being perfect, and have absolutely no idea they’re obsessed with being perfect.
I remember always thinking—because I’m messy and have trouble remembering to shower on the regular, among other things—that I couldn’t possibly be a perfectionist, even though the possibility was brought to my attention as early as the age of seventeen. (A counselor asked me directly, “Are you a perfectionist?”) It just didn’t make sense to me at the time, having all these preconceptions about what that term meant. (To me, a perfectionist was a person who got straight As and played the flute or something—A.K.A. not me.) I didn’t understand that trying to deny and conceal a major part of myself—also known as hating oneself—was synonymous with being a perfectionist, but it is. (Maybe we’re all perfectionists on some level, and adulthood is about unlearning all the behaviors we’ve used to cover up who we are—who’s to say?)
Anyway, for the last decade of my life—I’ve realized—I often gave power too much power. Control, too. (It’s ass-backwards, but the pursuit of power and control—I’ve noticed—seems to only achieve more confusion and chaos within the self: more internal isolation, and less genuine human connection to trust and confide in.) So, yeah, maybe a person who makes the pursuit of these concepts the central focus of their life appears to have everything, or like they’re the most interesting person in the room: the most desirable. But the core reality of that person is always very brittle, and kind of sad. (I would know: you can’t spend all of your time doing things to win other people over, and then expect to feel satisfied with yourself, especially when you’re alone.)
This is not me trying to say I’m cured, because I’m not. (A desire for perfection will always be a part of me, just as much as desire itself will always be a part of me.) I’m just saying, ever since I’ve started trying—merely trying—to let things about myself be, without judging myself mercilessly, I’ve found that there are just as many things from my past to be proud of as there are to be ashamed of. And much of this self-acceptance has come from also accepting other people for who they are; that, like I said earlier, people are capable of anything at any given moment—both good and bad—regardless of how well we think we know them. (Ourselves included.)
Furthermore, as I’ve come to accept this—that’s there’s no controlling how other people respond or react to me—the easier it has become for me to accept my—and everyone else’s for that matter—one, true power: that we all get to decide. We get to decide what’s true about ourselves and the world; how to respond to others, and the things that happen to us; who and what we give our love and desire to; what we have space for, and what we will not accept; that the approval of others, and its effect on our ability to do any of this, is inconsequential.
So, happiness: we get to define it for ourselves, as individuals.
For me, this is it: going home and growing old; internalizing the belief that “figuring it all out” is a fruitless concept, and that there is no ultimate point to be reached; forgoing goals toward some perfect image and clinging, desperately, to the moments I’ll never get back; collecting more of those moments as I go, and experiencing them earnestly; remembering, mercilessly, both the good and the bad, and not apologizing for how difficult it is, for someone like me, to let things go…
This year, I’ve decided, was a good and happy one.
There were moments when I kissed my boyfriend because I couldn’t kiss the full moon, or the night sky, or the cold. I listened to love songs and thought about everyone, including myself. I wore a wide brimmed hat, and drank wine coolers, and learned that the more stems a cactus has, the older it is—like rings on a tree stump. My best friend and I got matching sweaters. I tried very hard to forgive and forget, and then I stopped trying. Some days I felt hearty and full, and other days I experienced myself as nothing more than a mere wisp of a person. I unfollowed a lot of influencers. I missed people. I wrote a short story about a dream: all the missing girls in the world were found, high above us all, growing old and fat in the trees. (I swear, it’s not as lame as it sounds—or maybe it is: I don’t care.) I listened to Post Malone’s “Circles” on repeat. I did a lot of the same things, and then I stopped doing some of those things. I realized that some of the behaviors that used to bring me comfort, just don’t anymore. (I no longer find myself trying to feel my way through smoke-filled rooms; I no longer see the romance or the purpose. I know all there is to know about that, and it’s true: it’s nothing but smoke.)
If I were to write some kind of vow for the New Year, it’d say: I am learning to accept my inherent lack, and I will learn to love my unique ache. (The subtle insatiability that makes itself known when the moon is looming and there’s nowhere to go—a general sense of dissatisfaction, tying me to others and making everything more human.)
I found a note that I wrote, one year ago, in an old notebook: If you love and nobody notices, do you exist?
This is me writing back to myself: Yes.
Happy New Year, everyone!